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The One COVID-19 Complication That is Scaring Even Doctors

The coronavirus doesn’t just target the lungs. It can target your brain.
Neurology Consultation Woman

The side effects of COVID-19 are becoming more and more apparent every day, as scientists learn more about the virus. One troubling new line of inquiry finds the disease not only targets the lungs but also the brain—and a new study shows some patients have brain complications.

"Some COVID-19 patients, including those younger than 60 years old, appear to develop neurologic and neuropsychiatric complications such as stroke, brain inflammation, psychosis, and dementia-like symptoms, according to a study published yesterday in The Lancet Psychiatry," as reported by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. The altered mental states occurred more in older patients. "In this study, we observed a disproportionate number of neuropsychiatric presentations in younger patients and a predominance of cerebrovascular complications in older patients, which might reflect the state of health of the cerebral vasculature and associated risk factors, exacerbated by critical illness in older patients," the authors said.

How COVID-19 Targets the Brain

While they have established a connection between brain damage and the virus, researchers are still unsure exactly how exactly it is occurring. "Right now, we actually don't know enough to say definitely how COVID-19 affects the brain and nervous system," Sherry Chou, MD, an associate professor of critical care medicine, neurology and neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who is leading an international study of neurological effects of the virus, told Kaiser Health News. "Until we can answer some of the most fundamental questions, it would be too early to speculate on treatments."

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Nonetheless, study after study is demonstrating the connection. This week, the New York Times reported on the connection. "Among patients hospitalized for Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, more than a third experienced nervous system symptoms, including seizures and impaired consciousness. Earlier this month, French researchers reported that 84 percent of COVID patients who had been admitted to the I.C.U. experienced neurological problems, and that 33 percent continued to act confused and disoriented when they were discharged," reported the paper. "According to Dr. Mady Hornig, a psychiatrist and epidemiologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the possibility that neurological issues 'will persist and create disability, or difficulties, for individuals downstream is really looking more and more likely.'"

The Reports Keep Growing

The authors of this new study hopes it helps to draw attention to the troubling trend. "The results add to a growing number of reports of potential neurologic complications of COVID-19," reports CIRAP. "The researchers said that clinicians should be alert to the development of these conditions in coronavirus patients and called for larger, longer-term studies. Such research could determine if there is indeed a link between COVID-19 and brain complications, confirm which coronavirus patients are at risk for these complications, and describe potential mechanisms and underlying genetic factors for these conditions." As for yourself, to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.

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