Researchers in the UK have found that having a stroke is the most common neurological side-effect of COVID-19. They also identified other neuological and psychological problems that may be linked to the virus.
For the research, they analyzed medical records from 153 patients treated in UK hospitals for COVID-19 between April 2nd and April 26th. As patients in the study were selected for inclusion by their doctors, they likely include the most severe cases of the virus.
The study included 114 people who tested positive for COVID-19 via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Meanwhile, the others were suspected of having the infection from chest X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, and general symptom analysis.
The researchers found that the most common effect on the brain from the virus was a stroke, reported in 77 patients. Of these, 57 were due to a blood clot in the brain (an ischaemic stroke), nine due to brain hemorrhage, and one from inflammation in the brain's blood vessels. In total, 82% of the patients who had a stroke were over 60 years old.
Meanwhile, 39 patients showed signs of confusion and behavioral changes. Among them, nine had encephalopathy (an unspecified brain dysfunction), while seven had encephalitis or brain inflammation. The researchers say that long-term follow-up studies of these cases are needed to ascertain the longevity of the conditions.
The remaining 23 patients with altered mental states were diagnosed with psychiatric conditions- 21 out of the 23 had these diagnoses confirmed by psychiatrists as new conditions. While ten patients had a new-onset of psychosis, six had a dementia-like syndrome, and seven had signs of a mood disorder, such as depression and anxiety. In total, 18 out of the 47 patients with altered mental states were under 60 years old.
The researchers say that the high proportion of younger patients experiencing psychiatric conditions may have come as younger patients are more likely to seek mental health services for abnormalities. Older patients, on the other hand, are more likely to have their mental health issues excused by age.
"Our study is an important early step towards defining neurological complications in COVID-19 patients, which will help with health policy planning as well as informing the immediate next steps in COVID-19 neuroscience research. We now need detailed studies to understand the possible biological mechanisms underlying these complications so that we can explore potential treatments", says Dr. Benedict Michael, one of the study's lead authors.