As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic spreads worldwide, some people who had the infection report persistent symptoms. Others experience neurological symptoms like brain fog, headaches, and dizziness.
Most severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infected individuals never require hospitalization. However, some of those who recovered develop prolonged and persistent symptoms.
Researchers at Northwestern University, USA, analyzed "long hauler" patients whose symptoms lasted at least six weeks. They found persistent neurological symptoms, including brain fog and headache.
The study, published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, sought to characterize the spectrum of neurological symptoms in COVID-19 long haulers who were not hospitalized during the infection.
What are long-haulers?
Long haulers are those who have recovered from COVID-19 but experience persistent symptoms. Some report prolonged cough and difficulty breathing, while others have neurological symptoms.
Neurological manifestations have been reported in 36.4 to 82.3 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients globally. Apart from neurological symptoms, pulmonary, cardiac, and gastrointestinal dysfunction may persist after acute infection, constituting a "long COVID" syndrome. It is also known as the syndrome of "post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC)".
Further, more than 80 percent of infected patients have limited respiratory symptoms and do not require hospitalization. Despite this, some patients develop persistent and debilitating symptoms.
The study included the first 100 consecutive patients, wherein 50 are SARS-CoV-2 positive, and 50 are negative. These patients presented to the Neuro-COVID-19 clinic from May to November 2020.
The researchers noted the frequency of neurologic symptoms lasting more than six weeks and analyzed the patient-reported quality of life measures.
The team found that after the acute SARS-CoV-2 infection resolved, 85 percent reported at least four ongoing neurological issues, which impacted their daily lives.
The most common symptom was brain fog, which involves memory problems, a lack of mental clarity, and an inability to focus. About 81 percent of the participants reported ongoing issues with memory and thinking, followed by 68 percent reporting headaches. Over half of the respondents reported problems with smell, taste, tingling or numbness, and muscle ache.
The less common symptoms include dizziness (47%), pain (43%), blurred vision (30%) and tinnitus (29%). The team also revealed that most of the study's long haulers were women, with an average age of 43.
The study highlights the need for future research, showing that multiple distressing neurological symptoms may happen and persist after the acute phase of SARS-CoV-2 infection, even in those with mild symptoms who do not require hospitalization.