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April 07, 2021

One in three COVID-19 survivors suffer from brain disease, study shows

Most symptoms and diagnoses were found to be more severe for those who were hospitalized after contracting coronavirus

Illness COVID-19
COVID-19 brain disease VSRao/Pixabay

A new study found that a third of COVID-19 survivors experience neurological or mental health symptoms within six months of recovering.

After recovering from COVID-19, more than a third of all patients exhibit longer term mental health or neurological symptoms, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Researchers reported that 34% of COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed for a mental or neurological condition within six months of being infected. The study, which is the largest of its kind and included records of more than 236,000 former patients, also identifies more areas the health care system can assist COVID-19 survivors.

The leading diagnosis was anxiety, with 17% of those treated for COVID-19 reporting anxious behavior, followed by mood disorders that were found in 14% of patients.

Most neurological symptoms and diagnoses were found to be more severe in hospitalized patients, though those treated in an outpatient setting also reported mental health concerns.

"Our results indicate that brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after COVID-19 than after flu or other respiratory infections, even when patients are matched for other risk factors. We now need to see what happens beyond six months," said Maxime Taquet, an academic clinical fellow in psychiatry at the University of Oxford and co-author of the study.

Researchers found that those with COVID-19 have a 44% increased risk for neurological and psychiatric illness compared to those recovering from the flu. However, Parkinson's disease and Guillain-Barré syndrome — two conditions associated with viral infections — were not found to be more common after COVID-19. 

Things like psychological stress and longer hospital stays could play a role in how COVID-19 affects the brain, though further research is needed to make any claims. A smaller study out of Italy found that 30% of patients hospitalized for the coronavirus experienced post-traumatic stress disorder following recovery.

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