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COVID-19 infection may cause irreversible brain damage

This damage to the brain may not be repaired even after recovering from COVID-19, say researchers.

About one-third of COVID-19 patients develop abnormalities in the frontal lobe of the brain. This permanent brain damage could explain the neurological symptoms experienced by coronavirus patients.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Published : October 28, 2020 8:41 PM IST

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is turning out to be more dangerous than it was thought earlier. Although it primarily infects the respiratory system, it is also causing damage to other organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, brain, eyes and gut. Researchers, including scientists from Baylor College of Medicine in the US, have also warned that infection with the novel coronavirus may lead to permanent brain damage.

About one-third of COVID-19 patients have abnormalities in the frontal lobe of the brain, revealed an analysis of more than 80 studies reporting coronavirus complications. These abnormalities were detected using electroencephalogram (EEG) scans. This brain damage could explain the neurological symptoms experienced by the COVID-19 patients, the researchers noted in a report published in Seizure: European Journal of Epilepsy.

Most commonly, the EEG test detected slowing or abnormal electrical discharge in the frontal lobe of the COVID-19 patients. This may indicate damage to the brain that might not be repaired after recovering from the disease and remain permanent, the researchers noted.

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How coronavirus affects the brain

"We know that the most likely entry point for the virus is the nose, so there seems to be a connection between the part of the brain that is located directly next to that entry point," PTI quoted Zulfi Haneef, assistant professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine in the US as saying.

The review of studies also led to another interesting finding, which is that the average age of those suffering brain damage was 61, one-third were female and two-thirds were males. This suggests that brain involvement in COVID-19 could be more common in older males, Haneef added.

According to the researchers, the virus may not be directly causing the brain damage, but alterations in oxygen intake, heart problems related to COVID-19, or other side effects may be involved.

These findings add to the growing evidence that COVID-19 patients may suffer long-term health issues.

Long-term COVID-19 effects

Most patients recover from COVID-19 completely within a few weeks. But some people, mostly older people and those with serious medical conditions, continue to experience symptoms after their initial recovery. The most common lingering COVID-19 symptoms are fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, headache and joint pain.

In some patients, COVID-19 infection led to lasting damage to the heart muscle that can put at risk of heart failure or other heart complications in the future. This effect was also seen in people who experienced only mild COVID-19 symptoms.

Pneumonia is a potential complication of COVID-19 and it can cause lasting damage to the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. This in turn can lead to long-term breathing problems.

Experts say COVID-19 may also increase the risk of developing Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Blood clots and blood vessel problems related to COVID-19 may contribute to potentially long-lasting problems with the liver and kidneys.

Takeaway: Following preventive measures such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds and keeping hands clean can reduce your chances of exposure to the COVID-19 virus and thus your risk of developing these long-lasting health problems.

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