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COVID-19 study uncovers risk of brain malfunction

Posted: Thursday, October 8, 2020. 11:07 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: USA Today reports via Yahoo News that in a new study by Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago, a third of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 developed a degeneration of brain function known as encephalopathy.
Of the nearly 7.5 million Americans infected by the virus, 415 thousand have been hospitalized and more than 210 thousand have died.
WebMD describes encephalopathy – not to be confused with encephalitis, or swelling of the brain – as a group of disorders that represent “a serious health problem that, without treatment, can cause temporary or permanent brain damage.’’
Study author, Dr. Igor Koralnik, professor of neurology, describes encephalopathy as the most severe neurologic manifestation of COVID-19, characterized by altered mental function ranging from mild confusion to coma.
The research on some 500 patients in Chicago and its suburbs, published Monday in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, explored the neurologic manifestations of COVID-19 and found some were present in 82.3% of the patients at some point in the course of the disease.
Those symptoms included muscle pain (44.8% of all those reviewed), headaches (37.7%), encephalopathy (31.8%), dizziness (29.7%) and disorders of taste (15.9%) and smell (11.4%).
The scientists discovered that not only were patients with encephalopathy less able to take care of themselves – 32.1% of them had that ability after being discharged from the hospital, compared to 89.3% of those who did not – but they were also much more likely to die within 30 days of being admitted to the hospital (21.7% compared to 3.2%).
“Neurologic manifestations occur in most hospitalized COVID‐19 patients,’’ the analysis says. “Encephalopathy was associated with increased morbidity and mortality, independent of respiratory disease severity.’’
Dr. Richard Temes, director of the Center for Neurocritical Care at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, said that even though the study examined patients at hospitals in the Chicago area, the results are applicable nationally because COVID-19 “doesn’t respect boundaries, borders or geography.’’
Temes pointed out that most people who contract the disease won’t endure the harsh symptoms the researchers noted, but those who become critically ill – requiring a stay in an ICU and possibly sedation and use of a ventilator – are at the highest risk for those manifestations.
“This study highlights that for survivors of COVID-19, when they survive the infection, their recovery is just beginning,’’ he said. “These patients can have longstanding and lingering effects.”


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