Initially, neuropathies were thought to be rare occurrences as far as COVID-19 prognosis is concerned.
There were some reports of trembling, tingling, and muscle weakness here and there, but none represented a large enough patient sample to warrant updates to the research literature.
This has very recently changed. A new study conducted by a team at Northwestern Medicine determined that most patients in fact experience some form of neurological disruption, medically referred to as encephalopathy.
More directly, 82% of infected patients involved in the report experienced encephalopathy at some point before recovering from coronavirus. Symptoms ranged from confusion to indefinite periods of unresponsiveness. By and large, older populations suffer the most severe manifestations of neurodegeneration.
“Covid‐19 can involve multiple organs including the nervous system. We sought to characterize the neurologic manifestations, their risk factors, and associated outcomes in hospitalized patients with Covid‐19,” the researchers wrote in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. “We compared the severity of Covid‐19 and outcomes in patients with and without neurologic manifestations. We also identified independent predictors of any neurologic manifestations, encephalopathy, and functional outcome using binary logistic regression.”
Forty-two percent of the study pool displayed adverse neurologic manifestations at hospitalization, while 62.7% did so at re-occurring points over the course of illness.
Collectively, patients who struggled with impaired neurological function were hospitalized roughly three times longer than those who did not.
Of those who were discharged, only 32% were “able to handle routine daily activities like cooking and paying bills.”
More grimly, those who suffered encephalopathy were found to be seven times more likely to die compared to infected patients of normal brain function.
“This paper indicates, importantly, that in-hospital encephalopathy may be a predictor for poorer outcomes,” Dr. Serena Spudich, chief of neurological infections and global neurology at Yale School of Medicine told the New York Times of the strength of the new report. “That finding would also suggest that patients with altered mental function in the hospital “might benefit from closer post-discharge monitoring or rehabilitation.”
The exact mechanisms are still unknown, but the researchers theorize inflammation and effects on blood circulation independently associated with the novel coronavirus might be responsible for increased instances of encephalopathy.
“Encephalopathy is a generic term meaning something’s wrong with the brain. The description can include problems with attention and concentration, loss of short-term memory, disorientation, stupor, and “profound unresponsiveness,” the authors explained in a release.”Encephalopathy was associated with the worst clinical outcomes in terms of ability to take care of their own affairs after leaving the hospital, and we also see it’s associated with higher mortality, independent of the severity of their respiratory disease.”
The most common COVID induced disruptions reported by the patient sample were as follows:
- Muscle pain (44.8%)
- Headaches (37.7%)
- Encephalopathy (31.8%)
- Dizziness (29.7%)
- Disorder of taste (15.9%)