CINCINNATI, Ohio — It’s well known that the coronavirus is a major threat to the lungs, but few studies investigate the way the disease impacts the brain. Now, in a collaboration between researchers from the University of Cincinnati and several Italian institutions, doctors confirm that COVID-19 does indeed pose a threat to patients’ brains.
The study of 725 patients that were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 shows that an altered mental state and stroke are the most common neurological symptoms of the disease.
“To date, this is the largest and first study in literature that characterizes the neurological symptoms and neuroimaging features in COVID-19 patients,” says lead author Dr. Abdelkader Mahammedi, an assistant professor of radiology at the University of Cincinnati and a University of Cincinnati Health neuroradiologist, in a statement. “These newly discovered patterns could help doctors better and sooner recognize associations with COVID-19 and possibly provide earlier interventions.”
The researchers analyzed the neurological images taken of the patients at three different health institutions in Italy. Of the patients examined, 108 experienced severe neurological symptoms and had brain CT scans, head and neck CT scans or a brain MRI.
“Of these 108 patients, 31, or 29%, had no known past medical history. Of these, aged 16 to 62 years, 10 experienced stroke and two had brain bleeds,” notes Mahammedi. “Seventy-one, or 66%, of these patients had no findings on a brain CT, out of which 7 of them (35%) brain MRI showed abnormalities.” He also points out that older patients are more likely to experience an altered mental state.
There doesn’t seem to be a common pattern in the neuroimages of COVID-19 patients who experience neurological symptoms. Still, this study points out some features that physicians can look for in their patients which might indicate they have COVID-19.
“This topic definitely needs more research,” says Mahammedi. “Currently, we have a poor understanding of the neurological symptoms in COVID-19 patients, whether these are arising from critical illness or from direct central nervous system invasion of SARS-CoV-2.
“We hope further study on this subject will help in uncovering clues and providing better interventions for patients,” he concludes.
The study is published in Radiology.