Can COVID-19 cause neurological (brain-related) symptoms?

Bottom Line:

Yes, 78 of the 214 hospitalized COVID-19 patients studied in Wuhan, China had neurological symptoms, which included: dizziness, headache, lower level of alertness, stroke, imbalance, seizure, loss of taste and smell, changes in vision, nerve pain, and skeletal muscle injury. The symptoms, especially the more severe ones, were more common in patients with severe COVID-19 respiratory disease.

Reference:

Pleasure, S.J. et al. The Spectrum of Neurologic Disease in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Pandemic Infection. JAMA Neurology (2020). doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2020.1065

Date Published:

10 April 2020

Synopsis:

Infection with the coronavirus (SARS-COV-2 or COVID-19) can cause many symptoms. The most common are fever, cough, diarrhea, and fatigue. Before this study, there was no formal research into neurological (brain-related) symptoms of COVID-19. This study analyzed the clinical records of 214 patients in Wuhan, China who were hospitalized because of COVID-19. Of these patients, 88 (41.1%) had a severe infection, while 126 (58.9%) had a non-severe infection, based on the severity of their respiratory (breathing) symptoms. Severe patients were those that required mechanical ventilation support to breathe. Researchers found that 78 (36.4%) of them had neurological symptoms. The symptoms included: dizziness, headache, lower level of alertness, stroke, imbalance, seizure, loss of taste and smell, changes in vision, nerve pain, and skeletal muscle injury. Neurological symptoms were more common in patients with severe COVID (45.5%) than patients with non-severe COVID (30.2%). The more severe neurological symptoms, like stroke and seizure were seen more often in the severe population (5 cases of stroke, 1 seizure) than the non-severe population (1 case of stroke, no cases of seizures). However, the patients with severe COVID disease were also older and had more health problems, such as high blood pressure, which could raise the risk of neurological symptoms to begin with.

Summary by: Megan Wheatley