May 12, 2021

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There's nothing like our health

COVID-19 may increase chances of mental health and neuro conditions

3 min read
COVID-19 may be linked to subsequent mental health and neurological conditions, a new study by The Lancet Psychiatry journal suggests. Growing concerns over this issue have been discussed repeatedly over the past few months, but no large-scale data had been available to confirm or dispute the claims. The latest study included medical records of 236,379 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and is considered the largest study carried out to date on COVID-related neurological and psychiatric conditions. By using so much data – primarily obtained from the US-based TriNetx electronic health records – researchers were interested in accurately calculating the risk of COVID-19 patients developing neurological and psychiatric disorders in the six months after being diagnosed with the virus.Specifically, the study estimated the incidence of 14 neurological and psychiatric disorders that may be connected with a COVID-19 diagnosis, including: intracranial hemorrhage; ischemic stroke; parkinsonism; Guillain-Barré syndrome; nerve, nerve root, and plexus disorders; myoneural junction and muscle disease; encephalitis; dementia; psychotic, mood, and anxiety disorders (grouped and separately); substance use disorder; and insomnia. The study found that people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 had a 34% increased chance to be diagnosed with a neurological or mental health disorder within six months after contracting the virus.The results further show that anxiety and mood disorders were most common, affecting 17% and 14% of patients, respectively. Following on the list were substance use disorders, which were recorded among 7% of the participants and insomnia-related issues, appearing in 5%.

More serious conditions like suffering a stroke (2.1%), brain hemorrhage (0.6%) or dementia (0.7%) were less common, but more likely for patients who had become seriously ill during their COVID-19 infection and were admitted to intensive care. As a control group, the study used patients who had been diagnosed with influenza or other respiratory tract infections over the same time period, showing that COVID-19 patients presented higher chances of being diagnosed with one of the 14 neurological and psychiatric disorders included in the study. “Our results indicate that brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after COVID-19 than after flu or other respiratory infections… We now need to see what happens beyond six months,” Dr. Max Taquet, a co-author of the study from Oxford University told Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry at psych.ox.ac.uk. Prof. Paul Harrison, lead author of the study, stressed the implications of the study when considering the scale of such disorders on a global level, and the preparations that medical teams would need to make in order to properly address the issue when it starts presenting itself. “Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and that many of these conditions are chronic. As a result, health care systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need, both within primary and secondary care services,” Prof. Harrison told EurekAlert!, a service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The findings also highlight the need for more comprehensive neurological follow-ups for COVID-19 patients as a whole and especially for those who were admitted to ITU. The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.

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