London: Covid-19 was earlier described as lung disease, but as the epidemic spread, we realized that it spreads to other parts of the human body too. Covid-19 has been associated with skin rashes, bleeding disorders, and damage to the heart and kidneys. This is also causing problems for the brain and mind.
Early studies raised fears that a wave of strokes, brain inflammation, and muscle disorders would collapse health care services. Pre-coronavirus reviews warned that people recovering from Covid-19 may face stress and mental problems such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
However, it was difficult to find reliable data to prove or disprove these concerns. Therefore, together with researchers from psychiatry, psychology, and neuroscience, we studied the available research on the effect of Covid-19 on the brain. What we saw is this:
Different conditions, different frequencies: Our team soon discovered that most cases of association between COVID-19 and brain are associated with small, highly selected groups of patients. To tackle this, we searched over 13,000 documents related to the neuroscience and psychology of COVID-19. This contained information about 1,05,000 people from 30 countries.
We found that the most common neuropsychiatric symptoms in these studies were loss of smell, weakness, fatigue, and changes in taste. More than 30 percent of the patients we studied showed signs of loss of smell and weakness. However, serious brain-related conditions such as inflammation of the brain and the immune system attacking the nerves were rarely seen in patients. However, we found that some important mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety were seen in 25 percent of patients of Covid-19.
This can put a lot of burden on the patients in the coming years. Even very rare neurological diseases such as stroke will be a major challenge for patients and the health care system. Interestingly, we found that many of the symptoms (muscle pain and loss of smell) were actually more pronounced in people who did not have more severe infections. Along with this, we also saw symptoms like fatigue and headache in many people and these were the patients who were not admitted to the hospital.
While reading this research, you may wonder: How do we know that these problems are caused by Covid-19? Depression is common and can such people have depression without having covid-19? And what if a psychiatric disorder makes you more likely to have COVID-19? Also, after Covid-19, psychiatric and neurological problems seem to be getting more and more. Finding out the effect of Covid-19 on the brain is only one step. In fact, the neurological and psychiatric effects of this disease may pose a challenge to health care systems in the coming years.