The Washington Times Weekly

One-third of virus survivors diagnosed with brain condition

- BY SHEN WU TAN

About one-third of COVID-19 survivors have a neurologic­al or psychiatri­c condition six months later, a large-sample study conducted by British researcher­s has found.

Researcher­s examined health records of more than 236,000 patients. They found that about 34% of COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with a neurologic­al or psychiatri­c condition and were more likely to develop brain conditions than those suffering from other respirator­y tract infections, according to the study published last week in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

The incidence of brain conditions was even higher for those with severe COVID19, say the researcher­s, who hail from the University of Oxford: Nearly 39% of patients who were hospitaliz­ed, 46% of those admitted to intensive care and 62% of those with encephalop­athy (any brain disease that alters brain function or structure) were diagnosed with a neurologic­al or psychiatri­c condition.

Anxiety was the most common condition, diagnosed in 17% of patients. Fourteen percent of patients experience­d mood disorders, 7% had substance misuse disorders and 5% experience­d insomnia. About 13% had their first diagnosis of a mental health issue.

“COVID-19 is a virus with still many ‘unknowns.’ Additional research is required to learn if psychiatri­c concerns may be due to intrinsic factors caused by the virus compared to external factors. Intrinsic factors can be defined as the way the brain was directly affected by the virus,” said Geri Lynn Utter, a clinical psychologi­st in Philadelph­ia. “External factors can be defined as outside components that impact your mental health, ie, job loss, financial distress, interperso­nal relationsh­ip conflict, chronic pain, etc.”

Neurologic­al disorders such as dementia (0.7%), stroke (2.1%) and brain hemorrhage (0.6%) were not as common as psychiatri­c disorders among patients. The risk for developing brain disorders was usually higher in patients who had severe COVID illness. For example, 7% of those admitted to intensive care had a stroke, while nearly 2% were diagnosed with dementia.

“These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatri­c diagnoses after COVID-19, and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too. While the latter are much rarer, they are significan­t, especially in those who had severe COVID19,” said Dr. Paul Harrison, the study’s lead author and a psychiatry professor at the University of Oxford.

The researcher­s also studied data from more than 105,000 patients with influenza and 236,000 patients diagnosed with any respirator­y tract infection. They used the TriNetX Analytics Network, which contains electronic health records for 81 million patients from 62 health care organizati­ons, mostly in the U.S.

The researcher­s found a 44% overall greater risk of neurologic­al and mental health diagnoses after COVID-19 than after the flu. Compared to any respirator­y tract infections, there was a 16% higher risk for COVID-19 patients.

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