01/6'Too' long COVID

'Too' long COVID

The devastating neurological effects of long COVID can persist for more than a year, according to a new research published on Tuesday. The study, published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, is the longest follow-up study of the neurological symptoms among long COVID patients who were never hospitalized for COVID. The most frequently reported neurological symptoms include brain fog, numbness, tingling, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus and fatigue.

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02/6​Previous research

​Previous research

The new study from researchers at Northwestern University is a follow-up to a shorter-term study published last spring that focused on 100 patients with long COVID. That research found that 85 percent of the patients reported at least four lasting neurological problems at least six weeks after their acute infections.

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03/6Findings of this study

Findings of this study

For this follow-up study, the team continued to survey 52 of the original participants, who were patients at the university’s Neuro COVID-19 Clinic — a long COVID clinic — for up to 18 months. The cohort was three-quarters female, and the average age was 43. Almost 80 percent were vaccinated, and all had mild COVID symptoms that did not require hospitalization.

The study found that most neurological symptoms persisted after an average of 15 months. While most patients did report improvements in their cognitive function and fatigue, the symptoms had not gone away completely and still affected their quality of life.

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04/6Symptoms that worsen with time

Symptoms that worsen with time

The study also found that some symptoms, including heart rate, blood pressure variation and gastrointestinal problems increased over time. Other symptoms such as loss of taste and smell tended to improve. COVID vaccination did not alleviate symptoms, but it also did not make long COVID any worse.

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05/6What causes long COVID?

What causes long COVID?

“Covid is probably the most severe respiratory illness we have ever had, so it’s no surprise that we are seeing long-term effects from it,” said Dr. Avindra Nath, the clinical director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health, who was not involved with the new research.

He explained that the symptoms in long COVID patients could be the result of the damage from the body’s inflammatory response to the coronavirus. Any viral infection activates inflammatory cells throughout the body, including in the brain. The inflammation is meant to attack the invading virus, but it also damages brain cells and neurons in the process. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, triggers a particularly strong inflammatory response.

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06/6How long does normal recovery take?

How long does normal recovery take?

Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor of medicine and a pulmonary and critical care doctor at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, who was not involved with the study, said it is normal for a patient to experience fatigue and other symptoms during the normal recovery process after an infection, because fighting off a virus is hard on the body. “But healing shouldn’t last six months or more.”

For those who do not have long COVID, early research suggested that it could take 2 weeks for your body to get over a mild illness, or up to 6 weeks for severe or critical cases. Newer data show that recovery varies for different people, depending on things like your age and overall health. Due to how novel the condition of long COVID is, researchers are still working to understand the potential recovery times.

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