Disturbing New Study Finds Long-Term Neurological Risks After COVID-19
More than 6 million have already suffered brain impairments.
Posted September 25, 2022 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods
- An estimated 6.6 million people have suffered brain impairments associated with COVID-19.
- COVID-19 infection brings an increased risk of stroke, cognitive and memory problems, depression, and anxiety.
- Other neurological effects include migraine headaches, movement disorders, hearing and vision problems, and Parkinson-like disease.
- Those with COVID-19 had a 77% increased risk of developing memory problems and were 80% more likely to suffer from epilepsy or seizures.
The link between COVID-19 and neurological problems has been well-documented. However, most studies have been limited to hospitalized patients, used a narrow selection of neurologic outcomes, and had a follow-up duration of fewer than six months.
In the September 22 issue of Nature Medicine, a more comprehensive analysis using federal health data shows that in the first year after being infected with COVID-19 there is an increased risk of stroke, cognitive and memory problems, depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, movement disorders, hearing and vision abnormalities, balance and coordination problems, and Parkinson-like disease.
“We evaluated 44 brain and other neurologic disorders among both non-hospitalized and hospitalized patients, including those admitted to the intensive care unit,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, M.D., a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University. “The results show the devastating long-term effects of COVID-19. These are part and parcel of long COVID. The virus is not always as benign as some people think it is.”
The researchers analyzed about 14 million de-identified medical records of patients of all ages, races, and sexes from a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The data predated delta, omicron, and other COVID variants.
“We're seeing brain problems in previously healthy individuals and those who have had mild infections,” said Al-Aly. “It doesn't matter if you are young or old, female or male, or what your race is. It doesn't matter if you smoked or not, or if you had other unhealthy habits or conditions."
Based on their findings, it’s estimated that roughly 6.6 million people have suffered brain impairments associated with the virus. Those who contracted COVID-19 were at a 77 percent increased risk of developing memory problems, 50 percent more likely to suffer from an ischemic stroke, and 80 percent more likely to suffer from epilepsy or seizures.
COVID-19 sufferers were also 43 percent more likely to develop mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression, 42 percent more likely to encounter movement disorders, 35 percent more likely to experience mild to severe headaches, 30 percent more likely to have eye problems such as blurred vision or retinal inflammation, and 22 percent more likely to develop hearing abnormalities like tinnitus.
Al-Aly called for governments and health systems to develop public health and prevention policies and strategies to both manage the ongoing pandemic and to devise plans for a post-COVID world. “Given the colossal scale of the pandemic, meeting these challenges requires urgent and coordinated—but, so far, absent—global, national, and regional response strategies,” said Al-Aly.
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