Months after recovering from the acute symptoms of COVID-19, many patients are struggling with long-term effects on the brain: difficulty concentrating, memory problems, or mental fatigue. Known as “brain fog,” these lasting effects can impact even individuals who had mild cases of the virus, causing serious problems as they return to work and normal life.
A new trend depicted in recent case reveals growing evidence that COVID-19 can have lasting neurological impacts, affecting as many as one-third of patients who had the virus, according to some estimates. As more research studies are conducted, this compilation of symptoms is being called a variety of names, including COVID-19 encephalopathy, Long COVID, and Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). The National Institutes of Health launched their new initiative to study Long COVID in late February.
What causes patients to develop brain fog post-COVID?
The coronavirus is known to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), much like other severe viruses such as HIV-1, syphilis, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease. Neurologic symptoms have been observed in those with and without respiratory complications.
A recent study by researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York suggests that persistent inflammation and high levels of cytokines (proteins released by the immune system) in cerebrospinal fluid may be the culprit. The coronavirus may cause an overproduction of these molecules, resulting in a reaction similar to a cytokine storm, according to the researchers.
The Sloan-Kettering researchers suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs, such as steroids, may address the body’s immune response and provide positive outcomes for patients dealing with COVID encephalopathy.
Who might experience ongoing COVID symptoms?
Anyone who had COVID can experience long-term neurological symptoms months after they were infected. It does not matter if the COVID infection was mild or if the individual had no initial symptoms. Anyone who had COVID and doesn’t feel back to their normal self after 30 days may be struggling with symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, lack of focus, trouble organizing, balance, and mood dysregulation. Neurological screening for post-COVID patients can help ensure that additional services and support are provided.
What can help COVID ‘long haulers’ feel back to normal?
It can be concerning and confusing to not feel well for an extended period of time and have little to no reason why. As research is becoming more available, it is clear that these lasting neurological impairments are similar to symptoms of brain injury. Neuro-cognitive rehabilitation can help, just as it helps brain injured individuals relearn skills and coping mechanisms to lead a productive and meaningful life.
Depending on the severity of symptoms, both inpatient and outpatient services available at Nexus Neurorecovery Center might be the right treatment option. Offering neuro-cognitive rehabilitation for nearly three decades, Nexus is proud to offer the community this essential program that provides cognitive rehabilitation, occupational, physical, and speech therapy, vocational therapy and job readiness training, behavioral health support, neuropsychological services, and counseling. Learn more about our adult neurorehabilitation services here.
It’s important for individuals experiencing these long-term neurological symptoms to know that it is okay to not feel better right away. If you or someone you know is feeling “off”, there is likely a reason why and equally likely a treatment option available to start feeling better. Contact our referral center at 713.355.6111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an initial screening.
For more information on Nexus Health Systems and our facilities, visit nexuscontinuum.com.