As Americans enter their seventh month of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s encouraging to know that the global medical community is making progress.
Medical professionals know more about how to treat the virus with current medications, and they’re making progress toward new antiviral medications and vaccinations.
We also know more about how COVID-19 affects your body beyond the respiratory tract, including its impact on the nervous system.
Our team at the Shankle Clinic in Newport Beach, California, stays up to date with the latest scientific research, carefully monitoring the potential neurological problems associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
We put together this summary to help you stay aware of what we currently know. At the same time, we acknowledge that there’s still much to learn, and the news will keep changing as new studies discover more information.
In the meantime, you can reach out to us any time you have a question or concern about COVID-19 and how having it might affect your neurological condition.
Classic symptoms of COVID-19
Researchers recently reviewed the records of more than 24,000 COVID-19 patients from nine countries. Their results, which were published in PLoS One in July 2020, verified that the top symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Fever (in 78% of patients)
- Cough (in 57% of patients)
- Fatigue (in 31% of patients)
- Loss of smell (in 25% of patients)
- Difficulty breathing (in 23% of patients)
While most people are aware of these symptoms, reading them again helps keep them in your mind, so you can quickly identify early warning signs and seek immediate medical care.
The common symptoms are also worth noting because they reveal a glaring absence of neurological symptoms. However, neurological symptoms are real, and they’re not rare. In a few cases, patients developed neurological symptoms before any common symptoms appeared.
Neurological symptoms of COVID-19
We recently learned that 36% of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, developed neurological symptoms. That number goes up to 45% in patients who became severely ill with the virus.
Neurology experts reviewed the medical records of 214 hospitalized patients and published their results in JAMA Neurology in April 2020. They found that COVID-19 patients in Wuhan experienced the following neurological symptoms:
- Impaired consciousness
- Loss of smell
- Loss of taste
- Changes in vision
- Nerve pain
- Muscle pain
Of these symptoms, the first four were the most common, affecting 7-14% of all patients. Some patients in this study developed the symptoms of ataxia, which includes stumbling, falling, slurred speech, and loss of coordination.
Another study published in Neurology in June 2020 found that neurological symptoms were diagnosed in 57% of patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19. Neurologic complications were a primary factor in 4% of the COVID-19-related deaths.
How COVID-19 causes neurological symptoms
The only thing we know for sure is that COVID-19 causes neurological symptoms. We don’t know how the virus causes these symptoms.
The virus may act directly or indirectly on your nervous system. COVID-19 causes extreme respiratory distress and metabolic changes throughout your body. These problems may indirectly cause neurological symptoms.
The loss of smell and taste is a good example of COVID-19 indirectly causing symptoms. Most patients who lose their sense of smell and taste recover those abilities as they heal from COVID-19. Their recovery indicates that the virus indirectly affected their senses without causing nerve damage.
It’s also possible that the virus directly affects your nerves and causes long-lasting nerve damage. Some of our current information suggests that COVID-19 is directly involved with the nervous system, but we need more research before we can answer those questions.
COVID-19 associated with neurological conditions
COVID-19 is associated with numerous neurological conditions. The incidence of stroke is higher in patients with the virus. Cases of encephalitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome have also been linked with COVID-19.
However, we don’t know if those patients had underlying conditions that were aggravated by the stress of their COVID-19. The virus could also trigger the start of neurological conditions.
We will know more in the days to come as neurological experts start to dig deeper into their research and pool their information. A neuro-COVID-19 data registry has been created and universities are developing dedicated neuro-COVID-19 clinics. The ongoing research efforts will tell us more about neurology and COVID-19.
If you have any questions about COVID-19, or you need help with a neurological condition, call Shankle Clinic or schedule an appointment online.