By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) – People who have had COVID-19 a year later are at greater risk of multiple brain injuries compared to people who have never contracted the coronavirus, a finding that could affect millions of Americans, US scientists said on Thursday.
A year-long study, published in Nature Medicine, assessed brain health in 44 different conditions using medical records without patient IDs from millions of US veterans.
Brain disorders and other neurological disorders occurred in 7% more people infected with COVID compared to a similar group of veterans who had never been infected. This translates to an estimated 6.6 million Americans who have had brain impairment related to COVID infections, the team said.
“The results show the devastating, long-term effects of COVID-19,” senior author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly of Washington University School of Medicine said in a statement.
Al-Aly and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs St. The Louis Health Care System examined the medical records of 154,000 US veterans who tested positive for COVID from March 1, 2020 to January 15, 2021.
Video: Increased risk of certain brain disorders after COVID-19 infection, study results
They compared it with data from 5.6 million patients who did not have COVID during the same period, and another 5.8 million people in the period just before the arrival of the coronavirus in the United States.
Al-Aly said earlier studies looked at a narrower group of disorders and focused mainly on inpatients, while his study included both inpatient and non-hospitalized patients.
The most common symptom was memory impairment, commonly referred to as brain fog. Compared to control groups, people infected with COVID had a 77% higher risk of developing memory problems.
People infected with the virus were also 50% more likely to experience ischemic stroke, which is caused by blood clots, compared to the uninfected group.
People with COVID were 80% more likely to experience seizures, 43% more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, 35% more likely to have headaches, and 42% more likely to suffer from movement disorders such as tremors, compared to with control groups.
Scientists say governments and health systems need to develop plans for the world after COVID.
“Given the colossal scale of the pandemic, meeting these challenges requires urgent and coordinated – but so far absent – global, national and regional response strategies,” said Al-Aly.
Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Berkrot