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What is COVID brain fog?

what is brain fog covid-19
Photo via GreenFlames09/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A new symptom of COVID-19 is emerging months after patients recover from the virus. What is becoming known as COVID brain fog is plaguing survivors, muddling their minds and impairing their ability to work and function normally. What is brain fog, and why is it happening to COVID-19 patients?

People describe a range of lingering symptoms that remain up to seven months post-recovery. Many note that the term “brain fog” seems insufficient to describe the severity of symptoms they are experiencing. “I feel like I have dementia,” 53-year-old nurse practitioner Lisa Mizelle told the New York Times. Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar, 36, noted that her experience would be better described as “cognitive impairment.”

People suffering from brain fog describe a variety of symptoms. Confusion and delirium are just the beginning. COVID-19 survivors suffering from brain fog have experienced massive memory loss, a feeling of “white static” taking over the brain, an inability to comprehend written words, and even tremors and seizures. Milder symptoms including dizziness, muddled thinking, and exhaustion.

Charmed actress Alyssa Milano, who believes she initially contracted the virus in March, is still experiencing frightening symptoms. She has since documented her brain fog symptoms and severe hair loss

Neurologists have struggled to determine the exact correlation between COVID-19 and brain fog, in part due to the uncertain nature of the term. 

“It is not a medical term, this is what people are putting out there,” Dr. Ross Paterson of the Queen Square Institute told the Guardian. “We haven’t defined what these symptoms are and whether they (sic) anything measurable because, quite simply, nobody has done the study yet.”

Similar symptoms, though perhaps less severe, have been reported in patients with other conditions. Former President of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology Dr. Wilfred Van Gorp said brain fog symptoms display many similarities to both chronic fatigue syndrome and post-concussive patients. The variety of symptoms described makes it difficult for researchers to pin down answers.

The precise cause of brain fog in COVID-19 survivors is uncertain, though earlier in the pandemic, it was reported that 50% of coronavirus patients suffered neurological problems as a result. Lack of oxygen to the brain, body inflammation, and autoimmune reactions have all been tagged as potential culprits for brain fog. Paterson believes our nervous systems may even be under attack. He believes COVID-19 may be causing “neuro-inflammation and damage to the protective coating of nerve cells,” according to the Guardian.

It could even be psychological. The stress of fighting a deadly virus, not to mention ending up in intensive care or on a ventilator, takes a heavy toll. PTSD is being considered as a potential factor, along with tiny strokes. People experiencing symptoms similar to brain fog should consult with their physician to ensure that no other medical condition is to blame. 

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian, People


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