1 in 3 covid survivors suffers from ‘brain disease’, study says

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(CNN) – Up to one in three people infected with COVID-19 have longer-term neurological or mental health symptoms, researchers reported Tuesday.

They found that 34% of covid-19 survivors received a diagnosis of a neurological or psychological condition within six months of infection, according to the study published Tuesday in the Lancet Psychiatry.

The most common diagnosis was anxiety, which was found in 17% of those treated for COVID-19, followed by mood disorders, which were found in 14% of patients.

And although the neurological effects are more severe in hospitalized patients, they are still common in those who were only treated on an outpatient basis, the researchers note.

“This rate increased progressively as the severity of the Covid-19 disease increased. If we look at the patients who were hospitalized, that rate increased to 39%, ”said Maxime Taquet, an academic clinical researcher in psychiatry at the University of Oxford and a co-author of the new study.

The results help light the way for how the healthcare system should continue to help survivors of Covid-19, the researchers said.

“Our results indicate that brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after COVID-19 than after influenza or other respiratory infections, even when patients are compared for other risk factors. Now we need to see what happens after six months, “added Taquet.

Covid-19 as a ‘brain disease’

This is the largest study of its kind so far and involved the electronic health records of more than 236,000 COVID-19 patients, primarily in the U.S. Researchers compared their records with those of those who experienced other respiratory tract infections. during the same period of time.

They found that people with COVID-19 had a 44% higher risk of neurological and psychiatric illnesses compared to people recovering from the flu. And they were 16% more likely to experience those effects compared to people with other respiratory tract infections.

About one in 50 COVID-19 patients had an ischemic stroke, which is a blood clot that affects the brain.

However, Covid-19 did not necessarily increase the risk of suffering from the full spectrum of neurological diseases.

“Two important negative findings were related to parkinsonism and Guillain-Barré syndrome,” Taquet said. ‘Both conditions are neurological conditions that we know are sometimes associated with a viral infection. We did not find that they were more common after COVID-19 and after the other respiratory tract infections that we analyzed.

The study was important, in part, because of the large number of patient records the researchers were able to analyze, according to Dr Musa Sami, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Nottingham.

“This is solid work in a large group that demonstrates the association between covid-19 and psychiatric and neurological complications,” he said in a statement. “This is a very important issue as there has been considerable consternation regarding Covid-19 as a ‘brain disease’.”

Sami, who is unrelated to the study, highlighted the need for further research on how exactly COVID-19 affects the brain and nervous system. “Psychological stress, longer hospital stays and the characteristics of the illness itself can play a role,” he said.

One clue: psychological symptoms are more common than severe neurological complications, according to Masud Husain, professor of neurology and cognitive sciences at the University of Oxford and a co-author of the study.

“Actually, it is people with very serious illnesses who are at the highest risk of developing neurological complications, unlike what we see with mental health complications, which are much more serious across the board,” he said.

Other smaller studies have pointed to the same result. A study conducted in February followed 381 patients treated for COVID-19 at a hospital in Rome, Italy, and found that 30% of them experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after recovery.

A December study in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice showed that COVID-19 could cause seizures and movement disorders, even in some moderate cases.

The long-term burden of covid-19 on the health system

One limitation of the Lancet Psychiatry study is that it uses “routine health care data,” rather than research data, according to Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, and the study’s lead author.

That could mean diagnoses are missing, have not been fully investigated, or are incorrect.

And just being diagnosed could make a difference.

“Patients who had COVID-19 could be more likely to have a neurological and psychiatric diagnosis, simply because they received more follow-up, more medical care, compared to patients with respiratory tract infections. That could explain some of the differences we’ve seen in rates, “Taquet told a news conference.

But still, the study offers a broad view of the long-term burden the pandemic will have on those it affects.

“Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect on the entire population can be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and the fact that many of these conditions are chronic Harrison said. “As a result, health care systems must have resources to address anticipated need, both within primary and secondary care services.”

CNN’s Chloe Adams contributed to this story.