In order to better understand the long-term neurological and mental effects of the coronavirus, a study published this week in the journal Lancet Psychiatry found that the risk of developing certain brain problems was higher two years after infection.
Health records data from over 1 million people around the world were used in the study conducted by University of Oxford researchers, who found that while the risks of many common psychiatric disorders returned to normal within a couple of months, people were still at increased risk for dementia, epilepsy, psychosis, and cognitive deficit (or brain fog) two years after contracting covid. Common complaints among those who have recovered from the coronavirus include persistent brain fog, with adults perhaps being at a higher risk.
According to the study’s main author and University of Oxford psychiatry professor Paul Harrison, the study’s conclusions were a mixed bag. The speed with which symptoms like despair and anxiety faded was heartening. “I was shocked and relieved at how rapidly the mental sequelae decreased,” Harrison stated.
In an interview, David Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, who has been researching the long-term effects of the coronavirus since its early stages of the pandemic, stated that the study’s findings were quite concerning.
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It “allows us to observe without question” that those with “covid” get “severe neuropsychiatric sequelae” significantly more often than those without it, he said.
The study’s authors and others have stressed that it is not strictly long-covid research because it focused exclusively on the neurological and psychological consequences of the coronavirus.
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A blanket assumption that everyone in the [research] cohort had long covid would be “overstepping and unscientific,” Putrino said. The finding, he emphasized, “does inform long-covid research.”
Recent government estimates put the number of Americans with long covid between 7 and 23 million. Long covid is a catchall phrase for a variety of symptoms, such as weariness, dyspnea, and anxiety, that continue weeks or months after the initial illness has faded. As the coronavirus becomes endemic, those figures are certain to grow.
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Maxime Taquet, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford who focuses on leveraging big data to better understand mental illness, oversaw the research.
Between January 20, 2020, and April 13, 2022, the researchers matched nearly 1.3 million individuals diagnosed with covid-19 with a similar number of patients diagnosed with other respiratory disorders during the pandemic. The majority of the information was gathered in the United States, but TriNetX also included data from other countries, such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, Bulgaria, India, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
The study population included 185,000 youngsters and 242,000 older adults, and the results showed that the risk increased with age, with those over the age of 65 being at the highest risk for long-term neuropsychiatric consequences.
Persistent brain fog was found to be much more common among persons who had experienced covid (6.4% versus 5.5%), especially among those aged 18 to 64.
Children’s risk of mood disorders was not elevated six months after infection, while they continued to have a higher risk of brain fog, sleeplessness, stroke, and epilepsy. For kids, none of the consequences lasted forever. The elevated danger was greatest for those who suffered from epilepsy, a condition that is already exceedingly uncommon.
In the two years following infection, 4.5% of the study’s elderly participants acquired dementia, compared to 3.3% of the control group. An increase of 1.2 percentage points in a disease as debilitating as dementia is cause for great concern, according to the study’s authors.
Concerns were voiced about the study’s use of anonymized data from electronic health records, especially given the unrest during the pandemic. When patients have received treatment from a wide variety of providers, both inside and outside the TriNetX network, it might be challenging to monitor their long-term outcomes.
Harlan Krumholz, a Yale researcher who created a website where patients can enter their own health data, said, “I personally find it impossible to judge the validity of the data or the conclusions when the data source is shrouded in mystery and the sources of the data are kept secret by legal agreement.”
According to Taquet, the researchers employed a variety of methods to evaluate the data, including double-checking that it corroborated established facts about the pandemic (such the decline in mortality rates observed during the omicron wave). The validity of data is not going to be higher than the validity of diagnosis,” Taquet added. If medical professionals err, we will, too.
This study builds on previous work by the same team, which found that by month 6, 30 percent of covid patients had had mood disorders, strokes, or dementia.
Although the researchers cautioned that thorough comparisons between the impacts of new variants like omicron and its subvariants, which are currently driving infections, and those that were predominant a year or more ago are impossible, they did outline some preliminary findings: Long-term neurological and mental consequences appeared similar to those of the delta waves, suggesting that the burden on the world’s health-care systems may remain even with less severe versions, as was seen with omicron.
A study published this week in the journal Lancet Psychiatry showed increased risks of some brain disorders two years after infection with the coronavirus, shedding new light on the long-term neurological and psychiatric aspects of the virus.https://t.co/GwrGN7YOnW
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) August 19, 2022
Co-founder of the Patient-Led Research Collaborative Hannah Davis, who studies long covid, thought the finding significant. This contradicts the unfounded claim that “omicron is gentler for lengthy covid,” as Davis put it.
“We see this all the time,” Putrino added. Long covid continues getting left out of the debate. In terms of the devastating effects that have on people over time, it doesn’t matter how severe the initial infection was.
I’m Tom Martin, and I’m honored to serve as the Senior Editor at Nog Magazine. This role has been an incredible journey, one that has allowed me to shape and refine the voice of our publication while working alongside a dedicated team of writers and creatives.
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