COVID-19 Can Cause Brain Damage, Stroke in Severely Ill Patients: Study

COVID-19 Can Cause Brain Damage, Stroke in Severely Ill Patients: Study

As many as six in 10 people could face brain damage due to severe coronavirus, the study revealed.

Severely ill COVID-19 patients could suffer from brain damage and complications such as stroke, inflammation, psychosis and dementia-like symptoms, a new preliminary study published in The Lancet Psychiatry on Thursday (Jun 25) reveals. 

Apart from what we already know about the respiratory infection, this is the first study to address a series of neurological complications that could be triggered by the disease. 

125 cases were looked at in detail from across the UK, focusing on severe cases of when the disease was spreading at tremendous rates. Data collection took place between 2 April and 26 April 2020. 

Sarah Pett, a professor at the University of London who co-led the work said that it is extremely essential to continue gathering information in order to truly understand coronavirus.

COVID-19 Can Cause Brain Damage

According to the study, the most common brain complication observed in COVID-19 patients was stroke. 

77 of 125 patients or 62% reportedly suffered from stroke. That means as many as six in 10 people could face brain damage due to severe coronavirus. 

COVID-19 Can Cause Brain Damage, Stroke in Severely Ill Patients: Study

Photo: iStock

Of these, 57 patients experienced a stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain, known as an ischaemic stroke and nine patients due to a brain bleed.

One patient had a stroke caused by inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain.

According to age data, the majority of these patients who suffered from stroke were above 60 years old. 

While scientists are unable to ascertain how the blood clots are formed, they believe that it is caused by severe inflammation due to COVID-19 infection. 

According to them, inflammation in major arteries leading to the brain could potentially be linked to psychiatric problems as seen in some patients.

Almost One-third of Patients Developed Psychosis or Had Dementia-like Symptoms

The study also found that 39 of the 125 patients displayed signs of confusion or behavioural change, which reflected a change in their mental state.

Of these, nine patients had unspecified brain dysfunction, known as encephalopathy, and seven had inflammation of the brain, medically known as encephalitis.

COVID-19 Can Cause Brain Damage, Stroke in Severely Ill Patients: Study

Photo: iStock

The remaining 23 patients with an altered mental state were said to be diagnosed with psychiatric conditions.  

Among them, ten patients developed a new-onset psychosis and six patients with a dementia-like syndrome.

According to age data, around half of the 39 patients who displayed an altered mental state were below 60 years old. 

“It reminds us that COVID-19 is more than a respiratory infection and that we need to consider its link to a variety of other illnesses,” said Michael Sharpe, professor of psychological medicine at the University of Oxford.

However, as the study size is small—and as admitted by researchers—they cannot firmly conclude that these illnesses are caused by the coronavirus or that they “were simply co-occurring”. 

“Additionally, we cannot estimate how common these illnesses are in the wider population of people who develop COVID-19. We do need to do research to address these uncertainties,” Sharpe said.

Said Professor Paul Garner, an infectious diseases expert at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine: “There are many more questions to be answered and studies to be done before we can confidently say if COVID-19 causes psychiatric disorders such as psychosis.”

Scientists are underlining the need for larger studies that can help identify mechanisms behind them and speed up the search for treatments.

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COVID-19 Can Cause Brain Damage, Stroke in Severely Ill Patients: Study

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Written by

Jia Ling

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