‘No evidence of brain damage caused by severe Covid-19’

Patients who were hospitalised in intensive care wards following an infection with Covid-19 do not show any more signs of neurological damage than other groups of seriously ill patents, a study led by Maastricht University has shown.

In addition, brain and thinking function in people who had had the disease in its most severe form and who spent time on an IC ward didn’t differ significantly from others who had been hospitalised with the virus but had not been admitted to the IC, the researchers said.

However, over half the group who participated in the study suffer from long-term problems such as tiredness, difficulty concentrating, and memory loss. The cause is not clear, and more support and treatment must be directed at this group, the researchers said.

Researchers had expected that the cognitive tests and MRI scans of people who had been most affected by the virus would show up most neurological damage, and that they would experience more problems than those who were less affected.

‘That was not the case,’ head researcher Caroline van Heugten said. ‘The MRI scans of both groups were similar, although the IC patients’ MRIs showed evidence of tiny bleeds in the brain. But those did not translate in more problems.’

Long-term complaints, such a tiredness and memory problems, are also present in people who did not fall seriously ill and people who did not go to hospital at all, Van Heugten said.

‘It may be that being very ill and in isolation on an IC ward as well as the general atmosphere of stress and fear in society exacerbate long-term problems. In addition,  similar symptoms have been observed before in intensive care survivors and are therefore not specific to Covid-19.

The research has been published in the European Journal of Neurology.

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