80 Percent of COVID Patients Have This Terrifying Symptom, Study Says

You shouldn't just be looking out for a cough, according to new research.

With each passing week, we are learning more about how COVID-19 affects not just our lungs, but the rest of our bodies and minds as well. What originally appeared to be a respiratory disease similar to influenza is now presenting a whole host of other conditions and long-lasting effects, from rashes to unshakeable fatigue. But increasingly, researchers are finding evidence that a terrifying symptom of this coronavirus is neurological. In fact, 82 percent of patients hospitalized with coronavirus experience neurological symptoms, according to a new study conducted by Northwestern Medicine. Read on to learn more about COVID and the brain, and for additional information on serious COVID effects, check out The Harrowing Side Effects of Trump's COVID Treatment.

The Northwestern researchers looked at 509 COVID-19 patients in the Chicago area and found a host of neurological symptoms presenting themselves, ranging from muscle pain and headaches to encephalopathy (a kind of post-viral damage to the brain) and altered brain functions. At the lighter end these neurological symptoms is mild confusion, with more serious cases seeing patients put into a coma.

This is the first research study of its kind in the United States and was overseen by Igor Koralnik, MD, chief of neuro-infectious diseases and global neurology in the Ken & Ruth Davee Department of Neurology at Northwestern Medicine. "Our findings show neurological manifestations are very common in these patients," Koralnik told ABC News.

young white man putting his hand on his head and holding a glass of water

The study, published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, found that more than two thirds of the patients who did experience a shift in their brain function after becoming ill were unable to take care of themselves in the days after leaving the hospital. "We are now looking to characterize the long-term neurologic effects of COVID-19 and the cognitive outcomes in patients with COVID-19-associated encephalopathy," said Koralnik.

Interestingly, he also points out that these long-term neurological effects don't necessarily correlate to how severe a patient's illness was originally. "We're studying this in patients who are discharged from the hospital, as well as in COVID-19 'long-haulers,' who have never been hospitalized but also suffer from a similar range of neurological problems, including brain fog," he explained.

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So should you automatically be panicking if you get a headache? Not necessarily. "If somebody is only going to use headache as a trigger to go get tested for COVID-19, that headache should be something that either is a headache that's new for them or that is sticking around a bit longer than they are used to," David Aronoff, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told National Public Radio. "Or it's associated with another symptom that may also be subtle, like fatigue or feeling kind of worn out." And for more symptoms to be aware of, check out There's an 80 Percent Chance You Have COVID If You Have This Symptom.


John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more
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