Majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients suffer neurologic problems

Medical Watch

A new study finds a staggering number of patients suffer with long-term problems and mysterious symptoms after COVID-19.

Doctors in Chicago found the majority of hospitalized patients experienced neurologic issues like brain fog, dizziness and muscle pain weeks and months after having COVID-19.

And now they want to know why.

Dr Igor Koralnik is chief of neuro-infectious diseases at Northwestern Medicine.

“Four out of five COVID-19 patients hospitalized here at Northwestern Medicine had some neurologic manifestations during the course of disease,” he said.

The number is shocking. 82 percent of COVID-19 patients experienced neurologic symptoms during the course of their illness. Doctors at Northwestern Medicine conducted their study with more than 500 hospitalized patients.

The most frequently noted neurologic symptoms among study participants:

  • Muscle pain – 44.8%
  • Headaches – 37.7%
  • Encephalopathy  – 31.8%
  • Dizziness  – 29.7%
  • Disorder of taste  – 5.9%
  • Disorder of smell  – 11.4%

Encephalopathy was the most concerning. It’s defined as altered consciousness ranging from mild to comatose. Of those who experienced the complication up to 22 percent had a fatal outcome. That’s compared to a mortality rate of three percent among patients who did not have encephalopathy.

“In addition we’ve also had patients who had stroke seizures movement disorder and peripheral nerve problem,” Koralnik said. “And these people are long haulers who have lingering manifestation of COVID-19, which is likely a post-COVID syndrome that is not necessarily mitigated by the virus itself but probably an auto-immune issue triggered by the virus.”

To put the study figures in perspective, similar investigations in China found 36 percent of COVID-19 patients had lingering neurologic symptoms. And in Spain it was 57 percent.

“Difference may have to do with the ethnicity of the patient because what the virus wants is a receptor called ACE 2 receptor in order to enter cell and do damage,” Koralnik said. “This receptor may be expressed differently in different population Asian vs European African American or Caucasian.” 

Beth Moore’s symptoms checked all the boxes including gastrointestinal and cardiac issues, like surges in her blood pressure.

“The brain fog I’d say is one of the things that persisted throughout all of this,” she said. ”I had all of this weird tingling and rushing sensation almost electricity shooting through my body. I still have weird bouts of tingling numbness/”

Just another strange symptom the 43-year-old mother and attorney has lived with since May, weeks after she and her entire family recovered from COVID-19.

Now doctors are trying to understand the risk factors that lead to the lingering problems.

Patients like Moore want answers, too.

“The lingering neurological stuff that is troubling and scary to me that isn’t all the way better,” she said.

Northwestern has established a neuro COVID-19 clinic to help patients and further their research, particularly when it comes to looking at the immune response in survivors.

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