One in three COVID-19 survivors in a study of more than 230,000 patients, mostly Americans, was diagnosed with a brain or psychiatric disorder within six months, suggesting the pandemic could lead to a wave of mental problems and neurological, scientists said Tuesday.
Researchers who conducted the scan said it was not clear how the virus was linked to psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression, but that these were the most common diagnoses among 14 disorders they examined.
Post-COVID cases of stroke, dementia and other neurological disorders were rarer, researchers said, but were still significant, especially in those with severe COVID-19.
“Our results indicate that brain disease and psychiatric disorders are more common after COVID-19 than after influenza or other respiratory infections,” said Max Taquet, a psychiatrist at the British University of Oxford, who co-directed the work.
The study was unable to determine the biological or psychological mechanisms involved, he said, but urgent research is needed to identify them “with a view to preventing or treating them.”
Health experts are increasingly concerned about the evidence of higher risks of brain and mental health disorders in COVID-19 survivors. A previous study by the same researchers found last year that 20% of COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within three months.
The new findings, published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, analyzed the health records of 236,379 patients with COVID-19, mostly from the United States, and found that 34% had been diagnosed with neurological or psychiatric conditions in the six months.
The disorders were significantly more common in COVID-19 patients than in comparison groups of people who recovered from the flu or other respiratory infections during the same time period, scientists said, suggesting that COVID- 19 had a specific impact.
Anxiety, at 17%, and mood disorders, at 14%, were the most common and did not appear to be related to the severity of the patient’s COVID-19 infection.
However, among those who had been admitted to intensive care with severe COVID-19, 7% had a stroke within six months and almost 2% were diagnosed with dementia.
“While the individual risks for most disorders are low, the effect on the general population can be substantial,” said Paul Harrison, an Oxford professor of psychiatry who co-led the work.
(Report by Kate Kelland, edited by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)
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