COVID-19 Hospitalization Linked to Long-Term Brain Function Issues, Reveals Latest Research Supported by MQ

New research, supported by MQ, has found that people who were hospitalised with COVID-19 may experience various long-term problems related to their brain function. These problems can persist or emerge for a long time even after they have recovered from the acute phase of the illness.

The problems include ‘brain fog’ or slowed thinking and memory problems, dementia, depression and anxiety, seizures/epilepsy, insomnia and even psychosis.

These symptoms can have a devastating impact on individuals’ lives, so fully understanding the extent of these problems and the risk of developing them is an important first step to dealing with them.


What the researchers did

The study, conducted by Dr Maxime Taquet from Oxford University, used electronic health records data from 280,173 patients (Mostly in the USA) who had been hospitalised with COVID-19 and 46,573 record of people who had been admitted to the ICU. They then found health records from a different cohort of patients who had been admitted into hospital for different reasons and compared the data.

They followed these patients for two years in order to properly understand the long-term impacts of COVID-19 infection and how it compares to other conditions that resulted in hospitalization.

Such a large sample size makes this study highly unique, and by following up with individuals for two years this study is one of the longest in the world in terms of examining post COVID-19 infection outcomes.


What they found

Patients who were admitted to hospital due to COVID-19 infection were found to be at greater risk of developing a range of serious neurological and psychiatric problems compared to those admitted to hospital for other reasons.

However, the risks faced by patients who were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) due to COVID-19 are similar to those faced by people who were admitted to ICU for other reasons not related to COVID-19.

In other words, being in the ICU itself, regardless of the specific reason for admission, carries risks for long-term neuropsychiatric issues, and COVID-19 infection does not further elevate these risks.

“COVID is associated with elevated risks of a wide range of neurological and psychiatric sequelae. But when COVID is very severe, then the severity matters more than COVID itself.” Says Maxime.In short, we showed that post-acute neuropsychiatric sequelae (including brain fog) in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 are wide ranging and long standing. But risks in patients admitted to ICU are similar to those in post-ICU admission for any reason.


Why this is important

These findings are important for public health authorities who need to plan service provision. If the people who run our health services don’t know the scale of the problems we face then that cannot properly plan resource allocation,

These findings are also important to researchers interested in finding out more about the impact of COVID-19 on the body, the full extent of which is not known.

You can read the full paper, published in Brain Behaviour and Immunity, here. This study was supported by funding from the Wolfson Foundation.

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