Life-threatening Covid-19 complications in the brain, such as a stroke, delirium, hallucinations or nerve damage, may be more common than initially thought, a team of British doctors warned on Wednesday. Severe Covid-19 infections are known to carry risks of neurological complications, but research by University College London (UCL) suggests that serious problems can occur even in those with mild forms.
The team looked at the neurological symptoms of 43 patients hospitalized for a confirmed or suspected Covid-19 disease. Among them, ten cases of temporary brain dysfunction, twelve cases of cerebral inflammation, eight strokes and eight cases of nerve damage.
Most of these inflammation patients have been diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM, also known as post-infectious encephalitis), a rare condition commonly seen in children after viral infections.
“We have identified a higher than expected number of people with neurological disorders (…), who were not always correlated with the severity of respiratory symptoms”, according to Michael Zandi, of the Queen Square Institute of Neurology of the ‘UCL.
The study, published in the specialist journal Brain, shows that none of the patients diagnosed with neurological problems had Covid-19 virus in the cerebrospinal fluid, suggesting that the virus did not directly attack their brains.
“Since the disease has only been around for a few months, we don’t yet know what long-term damage Covid-19 can cause,” notes Ross Paterson of the Queen Square Institute of Neurology at UCL. “Doctors should be aware of the possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient health outcomes.”
With more than 11 million confirmed infections worldwide, it is known that in addition to lung damage, Covid-19 disease can lead to a variety of complications.
Even if this new work suggests that brain complications may be more common than previously thought, experts stress that this does not mean that it is widespread. “The great attention paid to this pandemic makes it very unlikely that there will be a large parallel pandemic of unusual brain damage linked to Covid-19”, for Anthony David, director of the Institute of Mental Health of UCL.