Coronavirus could cause delirium, PTSD and other psychiatric disorders in critical patients: Study

Delirium, which is now associated with Covid-19, results in confused thinking and affected patients are oblivious to their surroundings and experience hallucinations


                            Coronavirus could cause delirium, PTSD and other psychiatric disorders in critical patients: Study
(Getty Images)

Covid-19 patients battling severe coronavirus infections may experience delirium, agitation and confusion, a new study suggests. The researchers reached these findings after looking at how the new coronavirus disease and other closely related diseases such as SARS and MERS affected survivors. Delirium, which is now associated with Covid-19, results in confused thinking and hallucinations. Affected patients become oblivious to their surroundings. Though common among those in intensive care, the condition may hit older patients the hardest, according to researchers.

Early evidence suggests that delirium may be common among Covid-19 patients. And some recovered patients may have to face an onslaught of mental health conditions. The team suggests that doctors keep a watch for signs of depression, anxiety, fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder in survivors. Covid-19 patients in critical care are "an ultra high-risk group for developing acute psychiatric disorders, especially delirium," Dr Iris Sommer from the University Medical Centre, Groningen, who was not involved in the study, tells BBC News.

According to some experts, delirium should not be written off as a minor symptom. "Patients who have delirium are at least twice as likely to die in hospital. Patients who develop delirium while in hospital remain in the hospital for about a week longer than other patients. This means that there could be real problems in freeing up beds for new patients," the authors of the study, Jonathan Rogers from UCL, and Edward Chesney from King's College London, write in The Conversation.

The analysis shows that closely related coronavirus SARS and MERS have triggered long-term mental health conditions among survivors (Getty Images)

Covid-19 may lead to long-term mental health problems

To answer this question, the team combed through patient data from 65 peer-reviewed studies and seven preprints. The analysis shows that closely related coronavirus SARS and MERS have triggered long-term mental health conditions among survivors. One-third of coronavirus patients went through post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD within about three years.

About 15% of such patients were diagnosed with depression within about two years. The same percentage of patients were diagnosed with anxiety at the one-year point. Researchers speculate that Covid-19 may also follow the path of its cousins. However, they add that only a small proportion might experience them. "Our analysis of more than 3,550 coronavirus cases suggests that most people will not suffer from mental health problems following coronavirus infection," Dr Rogers says.

Other experts think the aftermath of Covid-19 could look bleak for some. They are returning to a society battered by the economic crisis, unlike SARS and MERS survivors. Lockdowns and physical isolation can fuel stress levels, Dr Sommer adds.

The team, however, thinks it is possible to take steps to address the problem. For instance, supporting hospitalized patients and monitoring them after recovery will ensure they do not develop mental illnesses, according to senior author Professor Anthony David from UCL. Co-lead author Dr Edward Chesney from King's College London says, "We need more research on how to prevent mental health problems in the long term. One possibility might be to reduce social isolation by allowing patients to communicate with their loved ones by using video links."

The study appears in The Lancet Psychiatry.

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