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Is COVID-19 causing brain damage?

coronavirus brain damage
Photo via GreenFlames09/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • About half of coronavirus patients are experiencing neurological issues 
  • Middle-aged patients can experience confusion and strokes
  • Experts are continuing to study why the disease is causing brain damage 

An estimated 50% of people diagnosed with the coronavirus are experiencing neurological problems, such as confusion, headaches, and even seizures, according to a BBC report. That’s led some to question whether the coronavirus causes brain damage.

Hospitals are reporting COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms, like delusion and loss of smell, to more severe issues like strokes. Experts say it’s still too soon to determine concretely how the coronavirus is affecting the brain and whether there will be long term neurological issues after patients recover. 

Reports of coronavirus patients experiencing neurological problems began in Wuhan, China in February 2020. Since then, countless other hospitals across the world, including Strasbourg University Hospital in France and Johns Hopkins in the U.S., have reported similar symptoms in patients. 

Experts say that the neurological issues don’t appear specific to age group, gender, race, or any other particular subset of the population––it’s affecting people in a way that seems almost random and without bias. Patients who are normally thought of as lower risk, like people in their 30s and 40s, are experiencing neurological symptoms. 

Researchers have narrowed down their hypotheses for why coronavirus patients are experiencing these symptoms. It’s possible, experts say, that the coronavirus is able to pass through the normal “shield” that protects the brain from infectious diseases, leading to severe and sudden infection. 

Another hypothesis is that as the immune system works in overdrive in an attempt to rid the body of the disease, it triggers an inflammatory response that can create tissue and organ damage. That’s called a cytokine storm.

Experts across the world are continuing to study the cases. However, they have come to the consensus that the coronavirus can have neurological effects and that more research is necessary to better treat patients in the future. 

Sources: BBC, John Hopkins Medicine


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