Covid increases risks of brain disorders, new study suggests
A study published this week in the Lancet Psychiatry showed increased risks of some brain disorders two years after infection with the coronavirus, shedding new light on the long-term neurological and psychiatric aspects of the virus.
The analysis, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford and drawing on health records data from more than 1 million people around the world, found that while the risks of many common psychiatric disorders returned to normal within a couple of months, people remained at increased risk for dementia, epilepsy, psychosis and cognitive deficit (or brain fog) two years after contracting covid.
Adults appeared to be at particular risk of lasting brain fog, a common complaint among coronavirus survivors.
The study was a mix of good and bad news findings, said Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford and the senior author of the study. Among the reassuring aspects was the quick resolution of symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
"I was surprised and relieved by how quickly the psychiatric sequelae subsided," Harrison said.
David Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, who has been studying the lasting impacts of the coronavirus since early in the pandemic, said the study revealed some very troubling outcomes.
"It allows us to see without a doubt the emergence of significant neuropsychiatric sequelae in individuals that had covid and far more frequently than those who did not," he said.
Because it focused only on the neurological and psychiatric effects of the coronavirus, the study authors and others emphasized that it is not strictly long-covid research.
"It would be overstepping and unscientific to make the immediate assumption that everybody in the [study] cohort had long covid," Putrino said. But the study, he said, "does inform long-covid research."
Between 7 million and 23 million people in the United States have long covid, according to recent government estimates - a catchall term for a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness and anxiety that persist weeks and months after the acute infection has subsided. Those numbers are expected to rise as the coronavirus settles in as an endemic disease.
The study was led by Maxime Taquet, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford who specializes in using big data to shed light on psychiatric disorders.