Does Covid-19 Affect The Brain?

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Covid-19 has made the news since the dawn of this year and has been on all of our minds ever since. Coincidentally that is what this article will talk about: the effect of Covid-19 on our minds and our brains.

Firstly, viruses often cause inflammation on the body even when they do not infect an area. However, when this inflammation occurs in the brain it can be deadly. Covid-19 is a virus, so this danger of brain inflammation is very real in certain people.

This is proven by research in the UK’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. This hospital had 43 people admitted to it with suspected Covid-19 symptoms. The age range for this group was quite large, between 16 and 85 years of age. The researchers involved in the study tested the clinical elements and raw results of multiple brain scans/laboratory tests. This is the first study in this field so far concerning the new coronavirus. Out of the 43 admitted, 10 had bouts of encephalopathies (temporary brain dysfunction) along with delirium. All of these 10 had brain inflammation which probably caused their brains to have these symptoms. Most of the 10 were over the age of 50 and has confusion and disorientation as part of the encephalopathy. One patient even had psychosis due to to the brain inflammation.

Furthermore, nerve damage was a regular report among those who had brain problems from Covid-19. To be exact, among the 43 subjects, seven had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a very rare brain disorder where the immune system of a patient attacks healthy nervous pathways. Myelin, the sheath around nerves in the human body, is also found to be damaged as a result of having Guillain-Barré syndrome. This deadly syndrome usually occurs as a result of previous infection.

This finding of Guillain-Barré syndrome is supported by similar figures of the syndrome from Covid-19 in Italy at the beginning of the pandemic.2

Some of the rest of the patients were reported to have other diseases like the following. Eight of the 43 patients had periods of stroke, which was singled out by medical field leaders as a very possible knock-on effect of having Covid-19, at the beginning of this crisis. In addition to this, the remaining patients after taking into account all the other diseases mentioned, has neurological issues, primarily brain abscesses and dysfunctions of the highly important cranial nerve in the brain.

Worryingly, while the study was being carried out some patients did not have any serious respiratory symptoms from Covid-19 but only had neurological symptoms in the brain. This is important and dangerous from a healthcare perspective as at the moment, doctors are relying much on clear respiratory symptoms to identify Covid-19, but what this study has shown is that other symptoms like loss of brain function can also indicate a patient having the disease, even if he/she does not have respiratory problems. If doctors can use this study well, patients with Covid-19 will be identified earlier, which is very useful when testing for Covid-19 in most countries is at a very low level. As more patients are identified with the virus earlier, more lives can be saved from the hands of the pathogen. Co-lead author on the study, Ross Paterson, PhD said that “People recovering from the virus should seek professional health advice if they experience neurological symptoms.”3

This study has proven to be very informative and important, first highlighting the tragic effect of Covid-19 in some patients, how this is not used by most doctors to diagnose patients having the pathogen and how lives can be saved by using this information to diagnose cases of Covid-19 earlier, as well as much more in the process. Hopefully, the focus in hospitals can now move more from just respiratory symptoms to symptoms in other body systems like the brain, as shown in this study.


References

  1. Featured Image – Hutson, M., 2016. Calculating The Human Brain’S Processing Capacity Is A Flawed And Meaningless Exercise. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: <https://slate.com/technology/2016/03/how-big-is-the-brain-who-knows-even-our-best-efforts-to-calculate-its-capacity-are-flawed-and-meaningless.html> [Accessed 19 July 2020].
  2. Bird, E., 2020. What Are The Neurological Complications Of COVID-19?. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-are-the-neurological-complications-of-covid-19#Cases-of-brain-inflammation> [Accessed 19 July 2020].
  3. Walsh, F., 2020. What Does Covid-19 Do To The Brain?. [online] BBC News. Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-53081022> [Accessed 19 July 2020].

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