American study suggests COVID-19 often comes with neurological symptoms

October 2020 Corona Willem van Altena

As the pandemic rages on, it is becoming more and more apparent that COVID-19 is a disease that does not just attack the respiratory system. It has been known for a long time that the coronavirus also targets the blood circulation. And according to recent research from Chicago (USA), 8 out of 10 hospitalized COVID-patients suffer from neurological symptoms. Recently, the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology published the findings from dr. Igor Koralnik, who is head of a neuro-COVID ward in the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, who has analyzed data from over 500 patients.

Just like a French study found last month, Koralnik notes that encephalopathy is the most prevalent neurological symptom, in varying degrees of severity ranging from a mild state of confusion to coma.

Neurological symptoms

According to the researchers, 82% of those who were hospitalized with COVID-19 showed neurological symptoms. In 42% of patients, these symptoms occurred right at the start of their infection, in the others the symptoms developed later on. Many patients experienced muscular pain and headaches, and in 30% encephalopathy was diagnosed. Loss of taste was mentioned by 16% of patients, and 11% lost their sense of smell.

Mortality

The neurlogical symptoms were found to linger on after the infection. Only 32% of convalescent patients who had had encephalopathy were able to resume their normal daily activities. With patients who had not had encephalopathy this was 89%. Mortality rates reflect the same discrepancy: 22% versus 3%.

Further research will now focus on the long-term effects of COVID-related neurological symptoms, especially in patients who had developed encephalopathy. The researchers want to expend their studies to include patients who did not get treated in hospital but underwent their illness at home. Early signs suggest that these patients suffer from neurological symptoms as well.

Encephalopathy

Encephalopathy is a name used to describe a range of degenerative brain diseases that usually have an external origin, such as a virus infection. But alcohol overuse and radioactivity can also cause encephalopathy, just as liver or kidney failure. Parkinson’s disease and Lyme disease are also considered encephalopathies.

Encephalopathy involves a large array of symptoms, varying from confusion to paralysis, epilepsy and motion difficulties. Other symptoms include insomnia, memory loss, loss of concentration, irritability, loss of inhibition and shaking hands. There is no real treatment for encephalopathy other than the treatment of individual symptoms.

Reference

Liotta, E.M., Batra, A., Clark, J.R., Shlobin, N.A., Hoffman, S.C., Orban, Z.S. and Koralnik, I.J. (2020), Frequent neurologic manifestations and encephalopathy‐associated morbidity in Covid‐19 patients. Ann Clin Transl Neurol. doi:10.1002/acn3.51210

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