Does COVID-19 Cause Brain Damage? Here's what We Know so Far

The nervous system in generalcomprised of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves may be particularly susceptible to the disease. "COVID-19 has been associated with multiple neurologic symptoms such as headache, dizziness, myalgia, confusion, alteration of the sense of taste and smell, weakness, strokes, and seizures," William C. Davison MD, FAAN, neurologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, Illinois, tells ishonest. Now, more research has discovered that COVID-19 could cause further brain damage, through brain inflammation and nerve damage.

Of all 43 patients, researchers wrote that those who suffered from a specific type of inflammatory syndrome, ADEMwhich affected nine of the patientswarrants close surveillance. A rare, potentially fatal condition, ADEM is characterized by an attack on the body's myelin, the protective covering of nerve fibers in the central nervous system, by the body's immune system, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. If this protective covering is absent or inadequate, nerves are unable to effectively transmit information. The symptoms that may result from ADEM range from headache and fatigue to visual loss and paralysis.

Also concerning to researchers were the incidences and severity of the strokes brought on by COVID-19. Eight patients out of all 43 suffered ischemic stroke, or a stroke caused by a blockage of an artery that supplies blood to the brain. The study detailed the case of a 58-year-old man, who presented with acute onset aphasia (loss of ability to understand or express speech) and right-sided weakness. He had a cough and felt tired for two days prior to seeking treatment. He eventually stabilized after treatment and was discharged to a rehabilitation unit. Rearchers noted, however, that more research needs to be done on the association between COVID-19 and stroke.

While these are only a few instances of severe cases of neurological complications due to COVID-19, it shows how challenging it can be for doctors treating COVID-19 patients. Patients who don't display severe respiratory symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, may not be tested for neurological complications early enough to avoid damage. "Some patients go from no symptoms and a normal outcome to multiple organ failure and even death," Dr. Davison says. "As far as I know, we cannot yet explain the large spectrum of symptoms and outcomes from COVID-19."

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