Some coronavirus patients are developing serious brain ailments, doctors say disease may cause neurological damage

Some coronavirus patients are developing serious brain ailments, doctors say disease may cause neurological damage
(Getty Images)

The novel coronavirus seems to be doing more than just damaging the lungs and heart. Doctors around the world have been documenting brain damage in a small population of COVID-19 patients.

Recently, doctors from Detroit published a study detailing the condition of a 50-year-old COVID-19 patient who developed a brain disease called acute necrotizing encephalopathy (ANE) — a condition associated with other viral diseases such as influenza,  chickenpox, and enterovirus. 

People develop a condition due to damage in the brain. As a result, they have trouble with memory. Other possible signs include muscle weakness in one area, poor decision-making or concentration, involuntary twitching, difficulty speaking or swallowing.

This case report is the first published case highlighting the association between the condition and COVID-19, the doctors from the Henry Ford Health System believe. They add that doctors around the world should watch out for patients showing a sudden change in their mental status.
“This is significant for all providers to be aware of and looking out for in patients who present with an altered level of consciousness. We need to be thinking of how we’re going to incorporate patients with the severe neurological disease into our treatment paradigm,” Dr Elissa Fory,  a Henry Ford neurologist who was part of the team of medical experts involved in making the diagnosis, said in a statement. “This complication is as devastating as severe lung disease," she added.


 The 50-year-old patient, a woman working in the airline sector, was struggling with fever and cough for three days before showing signs of confusion, lethargy, and disorientation. She was taken to the emergency ward immediately, where doctors tested for COVID-19 and other viral infections. Her tests came back positive for coronavirus.

Because the woman continued experiencing lethargy, doctors scanned her brain. Her MRI scan showed damage in a part of the brain that controls consciousness, sensation and memory function. This pointed out to brain damage: they saw abnormal swelling. Further diagnosis revealed the woman had that rare brain condition called acute necrotizing encephalopathy (ANE). However, the experts are unsure whether the virus was the culprit triggering brain disease.


Some patients experience a headache, dizziness or impaired consciousness (Getty Images)

Other instances

The 50-year-old woman was not the only unusual case. Doctors have observed similar symptoms in Germany, France, Austria, Italy, and Holland as well as the United States.


In the US, a 74-year-old man from Florida reportedly could neither remember his name nor explain his condition to the doctor. The man had an underlying health condition: lung disease and Parkinson's and developed seizures too. He later tested positive for COVID-19.


According to one Chinese study, COVID-19 patients also display signs such as headache, nausea, and vomiting. "Increasing evidence shows that coronaviruses are not always confined to the respiratory tract and that they may also invade the central nervous system inducing neurological diseases," the authors wrote in the study.


Another study reported that patients with severe COVID-19 disease had symptoms such as headache, dizziness, impaired consciousness, and epilepsy.

Researchers do not yet understand how the new coronavirus strikes the brain. Dr Robert Stevens, a neurologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who is tracking neurological observations, says scientists can only speculate at the moment. “It could be as simple as low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream,” resulting from respiratory failure, along with an increase in carbon dioxide, which “can have a significant impact on the function of the brain, and lead to states of confusion and lethargy,” he told The New York Times.


“We are still in the early days of this, and we don’t really know for sure," Dr Stevens added.

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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