COVID-19 can cause brain damage, even with mild symptoms

There are already several indications that the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus massively attacks not only the lungs and airways, but other organs as well, and that it can seriously affect the heart, nervous system, kidneys, and skin.

Now, British neurologists have published shocking details in the scientific journal Brain, according to which the new coronavirus can cause severe brain damage, even in patients with mild symptoms or in those who have already recovered. Often these consequences are detected too late, and even go unnoticed.

Neurology specialists at University College London (UCL) diagnosed 40 British COVID-19 patients with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis (EAD). This inflammatory disease produces a degenerative destruction of the central nervous system that affects the myelin sheaths of the nerves of the brain and spinal cord.

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Different effects of the coronavirus

Of the patients examined, 12 suffered from inflammation of the central nervous system, 10 had transient encephalopathy with delirium and psychosis, 8 suffered from stroke, and 8 from peripheral nerve problems, most of them diagnosed with Guillain syndrome. -Barré. It is an immune reaction that attacks the nerves and causes paralysis, and can be fatal in 5 percent of cases. A 59-year-old woman died of complications.

"We have never seen another virus that attacks the brain like SARS-CoV-2 does," Dr. Michael Zandi, study director and advisor at UCL Hospital, told DW. Especially severe brain damage, even in patients with mild symptoms, is somewhat unusual.

Damage often goes undetected

The cases mentioned in the publication confirm the suspicions that COVID-19 causes long-term health problems in some patients. Many people continue to suffer, even after recovering, from shortness of breath and tiredness. Others have numbness or numbness in their body parts, weakness, and memory problems.

"From a biological point of view, EAD also has certain similarities with multiple sclerosis, but the course of it is more severe and usually occurs only once. Some patients suffer, as a consequence, of a long-term disability, while others recover without problems ”, explains the scientist.

The full spectrum of brain diseases caused by SARS-CoV-2, as well as its consequences, has not yet been fully discovered, Zandi says. That's because many inpatients are too sick to be examined with brain scans and other methods.

"We want to draw the attention of doctors around the world to coronavirus complications," said Michael Zandi. Both doctors and health personnel should immediately consult a neurologist in the event that a patient has symptoms that affect their cognitive ability, memory problems, tiredness, numbness of body parts or weakness, he points out.

Shocking cases

Shocking personal stories were also published in Brain magazine, such as that of a 47-year-old woman who, after a week with a cough and fever, suddenly felt a headache and numbness in her right hand. In the hospital he went into a state of torpor and did not react to any stimuli. She had to be operated on urgently and a part of her skull was opened to relieve pressure on her swollen brain.

Another 55-year-old woman, without previous mental illness, began to behave strangely the day she was discharged from the hospital. He put on and took off his coat over and over again, and began to hallucinate: he saw monkeys and lions at home. She had to be admitted back to the hospital, where she was prescribed medication to treat psychosis.

The Spanish flu also caused brain damage

British neurologists fear that in some patients COVID-19 may leave subtle brain damage that goes undetected until years later. Similar consequences had, according to the investigation, the devastating Spanish flu in 1918, in which it is presumed that a million people suffered some type of brain damage.

"We hope, of course, that this does not happen, but when it comes to a pandemic that affects such a large part of the population, we have to be alert," concludes Dr. Michael Zandi, of the Queen Square Institute of Neurology, UCL .

Source: Alexander Freund for DW