COVID-19 may have long term effects in the mind

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One reason to be cautious and fear COVID-19 is the acute illness some patients face. But there is new evidence that there may be long term effects in the mind.

“We know this novel coronavirus affects the nervous system,” Dr. Igor Jerome Koralnik, Chief Neuro-Infectious Diseases & Global Neurology at Northwestern Medicine. “At least one third of the COVID-19 patients have neurological complications and two thirds of those who have severe disease need to go to ICU.”

SARS CO-V2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is a coronavirus. similar viruses are notorious for causing not just breathing problems, but neurological issues as well.

“This manifestation can go from headache, dizziness difficulty concentrating, confusion but may evolve into impairment of consciousness, strokes and seizures,” Koralnik said.

Those are the symptoms in the acute phase of infection. There are several theories as to why COVID-19 affects the brain.

“Direct infection of the brain or the nerves by the virus or it could be secondary to pneumonia and decreased oxygenation and also multiple organ failures that would involve the brain. Or it can be an inflammatory or an immune response to the virus an overreaction of the immune system that can also damage the brain and the nerves,” Koralnik said.

And that means symptoms could last long after recovery from COVID-19. there are multiple studies documenting how similar viral infections can lead to psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia. Koralnik said this virus is too new to know its potentially permanent effects. He’s launched a study to determine exactly how SARS CO-V2 may alter the brain long term.

“We are currently starting to review the entire population of covid-19 patients hospitalized at northwestern medicine to determine who had neurological problems and also follow them up over a long period of time to determine the outcome to see if those were transient or permanent and how to best treat or manage them,” Koralnik said.


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