A new study published earlier this week in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology found that non-hospitalized COVID-19 “long haulers'' who face symptoms over a month later report several neurologic symptoms. The patients in the study had mild respiratory symptoms like sore throat, cough and mild fever, but never developed low oxygen levels of pneumonia. The average age of participants was 43 and the majority of them were female.
According to the researchers at Northwestern Medicine, 85 of 100 non-hospitalized long haulers experienced brain fog, headache, numbness, disorder of taste and smell and muscle pain. In addition to neurological symptoms, the patients are reported experiencing fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain.
"Our study is the first to report neurologic findings in non-hospitalized COVID-19 long-haulers, including detailed neurologic exam, diagnostic testing, and validated measures of patient quality of life, as well as cognitive function test results," Dr. Igor Koralnik, chief of neuro-infectious diseases and global neurology in the Ken & Ruth Davee Department of Neurology at Northwestern Medicine, said in a release.
Many of the patients also reported experiencing fluctuating symptoms for months. When asked to estimate their percentage of recovery in comparison to their pre-COVID-19 state, patients, on average, said they felt 64% recovered after five months.
“We were surprised by the number of patients who were suffering from depression/anxiety before their COVID-19 diagnosis, and this suggests a possible neuropsychiatric vulnerability to developing long COVID,” says Dr. Koralnik.
“We are already performing cognitive rehab in some patients and are considering a variety of therapeutic interventions,” Koralnik explained. “We are also evaluating long-lasting neurologic symptoms across larger groups of COVID-19 patients including those with a history of hospitalization for severe illness. Future extended studies are needed to evaluate the cognitive impacts on long-haulers and devise appropriate treatment options.”
Another study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology in October 2020 analyzed 509 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and found that 82% of those patients experienced neurologic manifestations, as well.