COVID Increases Long-Term Brain Injury Risk, Large US Study Finds

Nurses react as they treat a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Milton Keynes University Hospital in Britain amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, on January 20, 2021. People who had COVID -19 have a higher risk of contracting a series of brain injuries a year later compared to people who were never infected by the coronavirus. (Toby Melville, Reuters)

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CHICAGO (AP) — People who had COVID-19 have a higher risk of a series of brain injuries a year later than people who were never infected with the coronavirus, a finding that could affect millions of Americans, they report. US investigators on Thursday.

The year-long study, published in Nature Medicine, assessed brain health across 44 different disorders using medical records without patient identifiers from millions of US veterans.

Brain and other neurological disorders occurred in 7% more of those who had been infected with COVID compared to a similar group of veterans who had never been infected. That translates to about 6.6 million Americans who had brain impairments related to their COVID infections, the team said.

“The results show the devastating long-term effects of COVID-19,” lead author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, of the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a statement.

Al-Aly and colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System studied the medical records of 154,000 US veterans who had tested positive for COVID since 1 from March 2020 to January 15, 2021.

They compared them to the records of 5.6 million patients who did not have COVID during the same time period and another group of 5.8 million people from the period just before the coronavirus arrived in the United States.

Al-Aly said that previous studies looked at a smaller group of disorders and focused largely on hospitalized patients, whereas his study included hospitalized and outpatients.

Memory problems, commonly known as brain fog, were the most common symptom. Compared to control groups, people infected with COVID had a 77% increased risk of developing memory problems.

People infected with the virus were also 50% more likely to have ischemic stroke, which is caused by blood clots, compared to the group who were never infected.

Those who had COVID were 80% more likely to have seizures, 43% more likely to have mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, 35% more likely to have headaches, and 42% more likely to have likely to have movement disorders, such as tremors. compared to control groups.

The researchers said that governments and health systems must devise plans for a post-COVID world.

“Given the colossal scale of the pandemic, meeting these challenges requires urgent and coordinated response strategies, but, until now, non-existent, at the global, national and regional levels,” Al-Aly said.

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