New study sheds light on how Covid-19 affects the brain

Hyperaxion Jun 13, 2020

Covid-19 patients may not have noticeable neurological symptoms at the beginning of the infection – but they can show up and even extend over the long term.

Earlier this week, a group of American scientists published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease a comprehensive study on the effect of Covid-19 on the nervous system. The researchers were able to define the three phases by which Sars-CoV-2 affects the brain. The classification method was called NeuroCovid.

New study sheds light on how Covid-19 affects the brain
(Credit: Flickr / Creative Commons).

“There is a lot we can do to promote brain healing in COVID-19 patients, but first we must understand the nature and severity of their neurological deficits,” explained Majid Fotuhi, the study’s leader, in a statement. “At the patient level, getting a baseline MRI before leaving the hospital is imperative so that we have a starting point to evaluate and treat them.”

The stages defined by the group can be described as follows:

  1. The damage of the virus is limited to the epithelial cells of the nose and mouth, and the main symptoms include transient loss of smell and taste;
  2. The new coronavirus triggers an exaggerated inflammatory response known as a cytokine storm, which begins in the lungs and, through blood vessels, affects all organs of the body. This process leads to the formation of blood clots that cause small or large strokes in the brain;
  3. The cytokine storm is even more intense and damages the blood-brain barrier, the protective layer of gray matter. As a result, blood, inflammatory markers, and virus particles invade the brain and patients develop seizures, mental confusion, coma, and even encephalopathy.

Fotuhi also pointed out that many patients with Covid-19 may not have noticeable neurological symptoms at the beginning of infection with the new coronavirus. In other people, these problems can arise even before the most common symptoms of the disease, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath.

In addition to performing an MRI scan at the hospital, he emphasizes that patients need to be monitored for a few months after hospitalization for Covid-19. That’s because experience with other types of coronavirus suggests that, in the long run, people can develop neurological conditions like depression, insomnia, Parkinson’s, memory loss, and accelerated aging in the brain.

“For those recovering from COVID-19, I recommend regular exercise, eating a heart healthy diet, reducing stress, and improving sleep,” said Fotuhi. “These are critical ways patients can rejuvenate their brain and minimize having poor outcomes in the future.”

Related topics:

Coronavirus Covid-19

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