NIH launches online database to track, understand neurological symptoms associated with COVID-19

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it has launched a database to track neurological symptoms associated with COVID-19. 

The NIH said the new database will collect information from clinicians about neurological disorders associated with COVID-19 and will be used as a resource to better understand the varying long-term effects of the virus. 

"We know that COVID-19 can disrupt multiple body systems but the effects of the virus and the body’s response to COVID-19 infection on the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscle can be particularly devastating, and contribute to persistence of disability even after the virus is cleared," said Barbara Karp, M.D., program director at National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). 

"There is an urgent need to understand COVID-19-related neurological problems, which not uncommonly include headaches, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, stroke, pain, and sleep disorders as well as some very rare complications of serious infections," Karp said.

The NINDS is the leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system, according to the NIH. 

While COVID-19 is most commonly known as a respiratory illness that attacks the lungs, medical experts have found more and more evidence to suggest an array of devastating long-term effects. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most commonly reported long-term symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain

But the health agency says other reported long-term symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with thinking and concentration (sometimes referred to as "brain fog")
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Intermittent fever
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

But the CDC’s list still doesn’t acknowledge other deleterious effects of the coronavirus, including neurological disorders that have been identified by the NIH and other researchers.

According to a study from the National Institutes of Health published earlier this month, 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 Avindra Nath, M.D., clinical director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

NIH researchers consistently found blood vessel damage in the brains of COVID-19 patients but no signs of SARS-CoV-2 infections. Arrows point to light and dark spots that are indicative of blood vessel damage observed in the study.

Nath, the senior author of the study, added that while COVID-19 is most commonly known to be a respiratory illness, he hopes the study will help the medical community recognize the scope of complications that can arise from contracting the novel coronavirus.
"We hope these results will help doctors understand the full spectrum of problems patients may suffer so that we can come up with better treatments," Nath said.

Previous studies have indicated that people infected with COVID-19 may suffer other neurological effects. In a separate October study of more than 84,000 people led by Adam Hampshire, a doctor at Imperial College London, researchers found in some of the worst cases, patients experienced mental decline equivalent to the brain aging by 10 years.

NIH STUDY: Researchers find evidence to suggest COVID-19 can cause brain damage

When analyzing data from the patients, study authors said they found 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 a post published on MedRxiv. "Finer grained analyses of performance support the hypothesis that COVID-19 has a multi-system impact on human cognition."

The increasing prevalence of such symptoms underlines the need for a reliable resource for researchers to better understand the effects of COVID-19. 

The new COVID-19 neurological tracker, which the NIH says will be available through the NeuroCOVID website, aims to give easier access to scientists for research studies on preventing, managing and treating neurological complications from the novel coronavirus, according to the health agency.