COVID-19 linked to neurological symptoms, studies show

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Two new research papers are shedding light on what can happen to the brain after getting COVID

"Very worrisome of course," said Samuel Pleasure, MD, Ph.D., Professor, Neurology UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, and added, "Pretty clear that there are multiple different pathophysiological mechanisms that can lead to injury of the nervous system and COVID."

A research paper by Northwestern University included 64 patients. Some who had been hospitalized and others who later experience long haul symptoms. Their findings show evidence of damage in the brain.

"Even patients who are asymptomatic or they have very mild infection symptoms can still develop neurological symptoms," said Katerina Akassoglou, PhD, UCSF Prof. at Dept. Neurology & Senior Investigator t the Gladstone Institutes.



Gladstone Institutes Senior investigator, Professor Katerina Akassoglou explains how this damage could be happening.

"The evidence from the brain from COVID patients we know that there are blood leaks in the brain of those patients in inflammation and when there is a leaky area between the blood and the brain this could be an amplifier of neurological symptoms," said Professor Akassoglou.

One of those patients was recorded by the Northwestern team. Samantha Lewis, a 34-year-old who was active before getting COVID in 2020. Now, she struggles with memory loss.

"I take a ton of medication now and in the evening I take more of the medication for the chronic headaches," said Lewis.

A second study from researchers at the University of Oxford included 400 people who tested positive for COVID -19 between 51 and 81 years old. Their team found changes in MRI scans before and after infection. Some of the changes point to the brain shrinking in size after COVID.

"Usually these are cognitive consequences. The grey matter is where the neurons are and the neurons form the connection that is how we think, and how we remember is how we move," said Professor Akassoglou.

Dr. Samuel Pleasure, professor of Neurology at UCSF believes more data is necessary.

"The people who had two MRI's who did not have COVID must of had some other problem with their nervous system being looked into and it may have underestimated the problem with COVID because the control group for people to have 2 MRI's within the space of a year it implies that they have some sort of underlying brain problem probably," said Dr. Pleasure.

Professor Akassoglou said there is hope for the brain to heal.

"I'm very hopeful that basic research is going to give new answers to the mechanisms as to how the brain is impaired and the potential for new treatment. Therapeutics intervention to cure neurological symptoms in COVID-19 patients," said Professor Akassoglou.

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