New research found nearly two-thirds (63%) of hospitalized patients displayed neurological issues and 82% of all patients exhibited issues at any point during the course of their disease.
More than 7 million Americans have survived COVID-19, but evidence is growing that the virus is leaving many of them with neurological symptoms, some of which may last long after they recover from the disease.
A new study published Monday in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology found that neurological issues occurred in most COVID-19 patients sick enough to be hospitalized.
As part of the study, researchers at Northwestern Medicine observed the first 509 patients hospitalized within their network of 10 hospitals and medical centers in Chicago in March and April. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of patients displayed neurological issues when first hospitalized and 82% of all patients exhibited issues at any point during the course of their disease.
“That means 4 out of 5 hospitalized patients in our hospital system at the beginning of the pandemic had those neurologic problems,” Dr. Igor Koralnik, a co-author of the study and chief of neuro-infectious diseases and global neurology at Northwestern Medicine, told NBC News.
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The most common symptoms were muscle pain, headaches, and dizziness, though nearly one-third of patients (32%) suffered some form of altered brain function, such as issues with short-term memory, concentration, and multi-tasking, “all the way to confusion, stupor and coma,” Koralnik said. Older patients over 65 were more likely to suffer from significant brain function issues, the report found.
Other less common symptoms included the loss of taste and smell, which Koralnik said could be considered the first signs of a coronavirus infection. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should immediately be tested for COVID-19, self-quarantine, and trace their contacts to limit further spread of the virus, he told NBC News.
The findings, which underscore the jarring and wide-ranging effects the disease can have on the body, came the same day President Donald Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after his three-day hospitalization. While at the facility, Trump also received risky experimental drugs and medications with known neurological side effects, but the president’s doctors have not publicly commented on any possible neurological issues.
The study is just the latest in a growing body of research highlighting the wide-ranging and sometimes long-term impacts the disease can have on the body. Thousands of patients, known as “long haulers,” have developed symptoms that last for months and range from fatigue and shortness of breath to serious issues affecting the heart, lungs, and brain.
But much remains unknown about how long these symptoms may last and what the long-term prognosis for these individuals looks like.
“Only nine months into the pandemic,” the Northwestern study’s authors wrote, “the long‐term effects of Covid‐19 on the nervous system remain uncertain.”