Covid-19 may strike the brain and trigger strokes, dementia and other complications, suggests study

This data represents an important snapshot of the brain-related complications of Covid-19 in hospitalized patients, say experts


                            Covid-19 may strike the brain and trigger strokes, dementia and other complications, suggests study
(Getty Images)

Severe coronavirus disease is tied with brain complications, including stroke, inflammation, mental disorders and dementia-like conditions, according to a small study. These findings add weight to the growing link between Covid-19 and brain damage, suggesting that it may strike the brain as well.

These findings, however, are preliminary. Further studies need to look at the prevalence of brain complications in Covid-19 patients. "This data represents an important snapshot of the brain-related complications of Covid-19 in hospitalized patients. It is critically important that we continue to collect this information to really understand this virus fully," Dr Sarah Pett co-author of the study, from University College London, UK, said. Understanding this could also help device effective treatment plans.

Previous studies have included not more than 10 patients. To bring out the big picture, researchers from the UK studied 153 hospitalized Covid-19 patients. "Ours is the first nationwide study of neurological complications associated with Covid-19, but it is important to note that it is focused on cases that are severe enough to require hospitalization," Dr Benedict Michael, lead-author of the study, from The University of Liverpool said.

In this study, the researchers set up an online portal, which allowed doctors to enter reports of patients showing brain complications. The network stayed active from 2 April and 26 April 2020, gathering information on patients. During that period, the portal recorded 153 cases, of which they had clinical details of 135 patients. Stroke emerged as the most common issue in 77 of the 125 people. A majority of these patients with the complication were aged over 60 years.

The study presents an important snapshot of the brain-related complications of Covid-19 in hospitalized patients. (Getty Images)

The portal also recorded signs of confusion or change in behavior in 39 of the 125 patients, seven of whom developed inflammation in the brain. Nine others had brain damage or malfunction, known as encephalopathy. The remaining 23 had psychiatric conditions, most of which were diagnosed for the first time. These include psychosis symptoms, dementia-like syndrome, mood disorder, including depression and anxiety.  However, researchers say they cannot rule out the possibility that newly diagnosed cases may have simply been old and undiagnosed. 

 The authors suggest that future studies also need to look at brain issues in patients with mild disease. "We also need to understand brain-complications in people in the community who have COVID-19 but were not sick enough to be hospitalized. Our study provides the foundations for the larger, hospital, and community-based studies. These studies will help inform on the frequency of these brain complications, who's most at risk of getting them, and ultimately how best to treat," Pett explained.

Commenting on the study, Dr. DameTil Wykes, vice dean psychology and systems sciences at King’s College London, told The Guardian: "There is a possibility that a small number of people may experience a first episode of psychosis following hospitalization with severe Covid-19 – 8% of the total cases reported in this paper," she said.

Michael Sharpe, a professor of psychological medicine at the University of Oxford, said the study reminds us that Covid-19 is more than a respiratory infection -- but it needs more evidence to justify that the viral disease was indeed triggering a range of brain complications. "At present, people in the general population should not worry too much about these possibly associated illnesses as they are probably relatively rare in those who become infected with this coronavirus," he told The Guardian.

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