COVID-19 Affects Brain 6 Months After Symptoms, Research Finds

Jay Croft

November 22, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest long COVID news and guidance in Medscape's Long COVID Resource Center.

Scientists have found that COVID-19 causes brain "abnormalities" even six months after symptoms are gone, according to an upcoming report to the Radiological Society of North America.

They found changes to the brain stem and front lobe in areas of the brain associated with fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches, and cognitive issues.

About 20% of adults will have long-term effects from COVID-19, according to the CDC. Neurological symptoms associated with long COVID include poor concentration, headaches, and sleep problems. Long COVID can also cause changes to the heart, lungs, and other organs, the RSNA says.

In this study, researchers used a special MRI to detect and monitor neurological conditions such as microbleeds, vascular malformations, brain tumors, and stroke.

Group-level studies have not previously focused on COVID-19 changes in magnetic susceptibility of the brain despite several case reports signaling such abnormalities," said study co-author Sapna S. Mishra, a Ph.D. candidate at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, in the Radiological Society of North America report. "Our study highlights this new aspect of the neurological effects of COVID-19 and reports significant abnormalities in COVID survivors.

Scientists compared imaging of 46 patients who had recovered from COVID and 30 who had been healthy. The images were taken within six months of recovery.

"Changes in susceptibility values of brain regions may be indicative of local compositional changes," Mishra said. "Susceptibilities may reflect the presence of abnormal quantities of paramagnetic compounds, whereas lower susceptibility could be caused by abnormalities like calcification or lack of paramagnetic molecules containing iron."

The researchers will conduct similar studies on the same group of participants to see if the COVID-19 effects continue over time.

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