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COVID-19 Has Neurological Effects in Most Patients

Four out of five patients recovering from COVID-19 reported neurological effects such as headache, confusion or dizziness at some point.

COVID-19 is known as a respiratory infection. Although the coronavirus certainly affects the lungs, however, it can also cause neurological effects.

What Do We Know About the Neurological Effects of COVID-19?

New data from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago shows that four out five patients hospitalized with COVID-19 also experience neurological symptoms. If they don’t occur during the early phase, they may show up at some point later during the illness. The researchers got these figures by analyzing records of more than 500 COVID-19 patients (Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, Oct. 5, 2020).

What Are the Most Common Neurological Problems?

The most common problems include muscle pain, headaches and confusion. Dizziness and the loss of the sense of smell or taste are also frequent. Such neurological effects were more common, overall, in younger patients.

Although coronavirus infections can trigger strokes or seizures, these are quite uncommon. More worrisome is encephalopathy. Patients over 65 are particularly vulnerable to this complication. It can range from mild (confusion or lethargy) to severe (memory loss and cognitive impairment). At discharge, only a third of those who had experienced encephalopathy could manage their usual routines, such as shopping, cooking or paying bills. By and large, the patients with encephalopathy had experienced more severe cases of COVID-19.

How Long Do These Symptoms Last?

Presumably, many people recover within several weeks. However, some patients continue to experience neurological effects for months, with dizziness, brain fog, trouble concentrating and memory loss. Scientists do not have data that extends further than about six months, so they will need to continue longer-term studies. Unfortunately, doctors do not have good treatments for these long-haulers. 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Liotta EM et al, "Frequent neurologic manifestations and encephalopathy‐associated morbidity in Covid‐19 patients." Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, Oct. 5, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1002/acn3.51210
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