One in three people previously infected with COVID-19 will end up with symptoms of brain disease

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Researchers say at least one in three people who have recovered from COVID-19 end up being diagnosed with symptoms of brain disease within six months. The study says that chance also increases based on how severe the illness was.

The study in The Lancet Psychiatry medical journal came out Tuesday, April 6. Doctors say it’s another confirmation of what many have been saying all along, COVID-19 isn’t limited to short-term effects. 

“Now we have a pretty good understanding that it does happen, I don’t think we’re any closer to knowing the why,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Health.

The study looked at medical records, but didn’t go into why COVID-19 could be causing neurological or mental health symptoms months later. Anxiety and mood disorders combined represented nearly a third of the diagnoses.

Doctors say brain-related disease after COVID-19 is probably due to a number of reasons, both biological and stress-related.

“Must figure out, are there biological reasons for this and that’s manifesting as symptoms of anxiety, which I think is probably more likely than solely the stress,” adds Dr. Safdar.

The study shows more than 33-percent of people infected with COVID-19 received a neurological or mental health-related diagnosis. The rate for hospitalized patients is at nearly 39-percent, and for COVID-19 patients in the ICU that number is at nearly 47-percent.

Doctors say strokes and blood clots can happen when you get severely ill from COVID-19, which could be a contributing factor.

“When you have people who are severely ill, they may be at higher risk for those things and those can cause a lot of neurologic damage,” said Dr. Safdar.  

The study came out the same day leading epidemiologists with the World Health Organization stressed the importance of getting care for COVID-19 early on.

“It’s about getting into the clinical care pathway early, so that individuals who are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus are seen and are assessed so that they are treated appropriately,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at World Health Organization.

Doctors say it’s important to get evaluated because treatments for symptoms of brain disease could differ.

“Based on— is this more of a deconditioning problem because you were just in the hospital for a long time? Was there a clot or a stroke during that time? That would take us down a different path,” Dr. Safdar says.

The study also compared brain disease symptoms in people who have recovered from flu and other illnesses, and determined it had higher prevalence in people who have had COVID-19.

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