Most people identify coronavirus as a respiratory illness, but according to recent research, that’s not the entire story. Strokes, seizures, and other neurological symptoms have been observed in COVID-19 patients, leading doctors and scientists to further explore the lesser-known neurological complications of this disease.
The Neurological Implications of COVID-19
In a study recently released by a team at the Complejo Hospitalario Universitario de Albacete in Spain, researchers observed neurological manifestations in 57.4% of the 841 patients studied with COVID-19 in March. Those neurological complications were considered the fundamental cause of 4.1% of COVID-19 deaths in the study.
According to lead researcher Carlos Manuel Romero-Sanchez, MD, neurological symptoms emerged throughout all phases of coronavirus infection, with severe conditions appearing more frequently in late COVID-stages.
“We would like to raise awareness that neurological complications may arise in the recovery phase of COVID-19, including cerebrovascular and dysimmune,” Romero-Sanchez said in a statement.
Of the neurological problems observed, the most common included:
- Optic neuritis
- Inflammatory disease
In fact, one in five patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the study demonstrated disorders of consciousness. “Disorders of consciousness were associated with severe COVID, older age, higher creatine kinase levels, and lower lymphocyte count,” Romero-Sanchez noted.
Another study analyzed patient data from 214 coronavirus patients in Wuhan, China. Overall, 78 patients, or 36.4% of patients, demonstrated neurological manifestations. These patients showed fewer “typical” symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever and cough, and instead presented neurological problems including impaired consciousness.
As the research team notes, “Therefore, for patients with COVID-19, we need to pay close attention to their neurologic manifestations, especially for those with severe infections, which may have contributed to their death.” Even more importantly, the study explains, “physicians should consider SARS-CoV-2 infection as a differential diagnosis to avoid delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis and prevention of treatment.”
The Connection Between COVID-19 and Stroke
According to blood clotting disorder expert Alex Spyropoulos, an internist and professor of medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, COVID-19 causes blood clots at a higher rate than any other known disease.
“The risk of blood clots are anywhere from about three to six times more than we’re used to seeing,” Spyropoulos explains. Blood clots can lead to life-threatening neurological conditions, including stroke. This makes it more important than ever before for high-risk individuals to take blood thinner medications.
It will take more time and research to understand the long-term effects of the coronavirus on brain health. In the meantime, doctors and scientists continue to update coronavirus diagnosis and treatment techniques to address these new neurological symptoms.