These Common Symptoms Could Mean COVID Is in Your Brain

Some of the most oft-cited coronavirus symptoms might suggest neurological damage.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, doctors and scientists have learned more and more about the virus at its center. One of the most frightening things about COVID-19 is that it's a brand new disease—which means we are constantly discovering new symptoms. And it's now become clear that COVID is more than just a respiratory infection. In fact, new research shows that some of the most common COVID symptoms could mean that the disease is in your brain.

We've known for some time that coronavirus can affect your brain, but a new study from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine has determined a link between symptoms that may provide further evidence of COVID's impact on the brain. Researchers found that patients who experienced more severe loss of taste and smell were more likely to report depression and anxiety—suggesting that those psychological symptoms are actually a sign of something more serious than simply a reaction to having coronavirus. Read on to find out about the symptoms that may mean COVID is attacking your brain. And for more unusual symptoms, If You Have a Rash in This Spot, You May Have COVID, Study Suggests.

Depression and anxiety

anxious asian woman clutching herself on the couch

Ahmad Sedaghat, MD, lead author of the University of Cincinnati study, said he had assumed depression and anxiety would have been a natural result of experiencing serious COVID symptoms like cough and shortness of breath. Instead, however, he and his team found that these symptoms were only significantly associated with loss of smell and taste.

"We think our findings suggest the possibility that psychological distress in the form of depressed mood or anxiety may reflect the penetration of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, into the central nervous system," Sedaghat said. And for more subtle symptoms, This Is the COVID-19 Symptom You're Most Likely to Miss, Doctor Says.

Loss of smell and taste

close up of woman smelling a candle and looking confused

The common symptoms of loss of taste and smell—sometimes the only symptoms that people with COVID experience—have been regarded as some of the "least worrisome symptoms" of the disease. But the link between these symptoms and anxiety and depression suggest a significant neurological component.

As early as March, researchers were suggesting that loss of taste and smell showed that coronavirus was attacking the central nervous system, and that the disease could have an effect on patients' brains. And for more on coronavirus symptoms (or the lack thereof), The Number of COVID Patients Without Symptoms Is Growing, CDC Says.


older white man with his head in his hands

A July study in the journal Brain identified delirium as another troubling neurological symptom of coronavirus, and a surprisingly common one—up to 25 percent of patients may experience it. This symptom, according to the authors of the study, is expected given the kinds of neurological problems that patients with past coronaviruses (like SARS and MERS) have faced.

"We should be vigilant and look out for these complications in people who have had COVID-19," study co-author Michael Zandi, MA, said in a statement.


broken coffee cup and plate with spoon on the floor

Although clumsiness is not one of the more common symptoms of coronavirus, it has been reported by people recovering from COVID. As James Giordano, PhD, professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, previously told Best Life, a coronavirus infection could "lead to lowered oxygen levels in the blood supply to the brain, which can induce diminished functional capacity of neural cells."

Inflammation caused by COVID could also enter the brain and change the structure of neural cells. Either of these explanations might account for the clumsiness some coronavirus patients have experienced. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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