COVID and The Brain – and Concerns for Long Haul COVID
David S. Cantor, Ph.D.,MS
COVID-19 and its variants have produced a myriad of challenges to the US Healthcare System over the last 2 years leaving behind a lot of confusion and concerns about the residual effects of this pandemic. As more and more research has come forward, we are just beginning to understand that this viral infection not only targets the lungs but can affect the functioning of many other organs throughout the body, including the brain. Essentially, a primary mechanism of the virus is that it disrupts cells from being able to access and utilize oxygen, which is so important for nearly all cellular proves in the body. Another process that is key to understanding the potential effects of the virus is that such infections cause inflammatory processes in the body when the immune system sets out to battle the infection. Inflammatory processes have been identified as suspect causative or least synergistic processes that lead to compromised neural or nervous system function and as such can affect our abilities to concentrate, learn, recall, and regulate sleep and our emotions.
It is thought that the primary entry point of the virus and its variations enter the brain through the nasal passage.
While the above can lead to more serious problems with severe symptoms, even the course of milder symptoms are now thought to contribute to affecting the efficiency of the brain to regulate attention processes, memory, sleep process, and moods.
While the vaccination programs have aimed at reducing the rates of infection, the variations of COVID-19 have challenged the system to come up with more and more vaccinations that can be more efficient in preventing serious illness. At this time, while rates of infection are continuing to challenge the system, the result of current variations of the infection appear to result in milder symptoms than the original infection triggering the pandemic in 2020.
With recovery, there is growing evidence of brain-behavior problems. In one study (Helms et al., 2020), they found that of 58 patients, 84% had neurological symptoms (encephalopathy, corticospinal dysfunction). At the time of discharge, 33% showed dysexecutive syndrome, ADHD features, and poor coordination of movement. How do we know that there are residual effects on the brain?
Findings come from a large study of 81,337 people in the UK who completed a questionnaire and a series of cognitive tests as part of the Great British Intelligence Test, a collaborative citizen science project with BBC2 Horizon (Hampshire et al., 2021). These results accord with reports of ‘Long Covid’ cognitive symptoms that persist into the early-chronic phase. More and more people are coming forth complaining of persisting symptoms weeks and months after they have recovered from initial physical symptoms of infection. These symptoms appear to be real and likely the result of neurological impairment, “at least temporarily”, as an outcome of the infection process. The term “at least temporarily” is stated because we still do not have enough information to determine how long these symptoms persist and who is most likely to experience long-haul COVID.
Research about long-haul COVID is ongoing and we are sure to hear and understand more in the future. In the meanwhile, if you are feeling a type of “brain fog” or experiencing some of the neurological soft signs that may be residual from a COVID infection, we can assess your functional status and offer you treatment intervention techniques and strategies that may be helpful like any neurological or psychological residual form having been infected and having life changes.
Contact us to learn more about your treatment options if you are having concerns post COVID.