More than a third of COVID-19 survivors suffer neurological and psychiatric effects, study finds

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been growing concern that survivors might be at an increased risk of brain disorders. Now, a new study shows that more than one in three COVID-19 survivors may suffer from longer-term neurological and psychiatric effects from the virus.

In the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers used data obtained from the TriNetX electronic health records network with over 81 million patients.

Among 236,379 patients diagnosed with COVID-19, a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis was found in 33.62% of individuals with 12.84% receiving their first such diagnosis.

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"To our knowledge, we provide the first meaningful estimates of the risks of major neurological and psychiatric conditions in the 6 months after a COVID-19 diagnosis," the study authors wrote.

The most common diagnosis was anxiety, which was found in 17% of those treated for COVID-19, followed by mood disorders, which were found in 14% of patients.

Risks were greatest in, but not limited to, patients who had severe COVID-19 illness and those that required hospitalization.

The new research comes in the wake of other reports and studies on various adverse neurological and psychiatric outcomes commonly occurring after COVID-19.

RELATED: Researchers note decline in brain function in some COVID-19 survivors

In a January study from the National Institutes of Health, researchers found evidence to suggest that brain damage may be a byproduct of COVID-19. Researchers uncovered blood vessel damage and inflammation in the brains of 19 deceased COVID-19 patients.

"We found that the brains of patients who contract infection from SARS-CoV-2 may be susceptible to microvascular blood vessel damage. Our results suggest that this may be caused by the body’s inflammatory response to the virus" said Dr. Avindra Nath, clinical director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

In another study, researchers found in some of the worst cases, patients experienced mental decline equivalent to the brain aging by 10 years.

When analyzing data from the patients, study authors said they found a significant cognitive decline in some individuals.

"[Cognitive deficits] were of substantial effect size for people who had been hospitalized, but also for mild but biologically confirmed cases who reported no breathing difficulty," the researchers wrote in the report published on MedRxiv. "Finer grained analyses of performance support the hypothesis that COVID-19 has a multi-system impact on human cognition."

Meanwhile, a study led by researchers at University College London described more than 40 patients with COVID-19 who experienced a multitude of different brain effects.

For some people in the study, the neurological problem was the COVID-19 patient’s first and primary symptom."We identified a higher than expected number of people with neurological conditions such as brain inflammation, which did not always correlate with the severity of respiratory symptoms," said Dr Michael Zandi, a co-author with the University College London.

"We should be vigilant and look out for these complications in people who have had COVID-19. Whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic – perhaps similar to the encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the 1920s and 1930s after the 1918 influenza pandemic – remains to be seen," Zandi added.