The Rare, Deadly Condition That's Affecting Coronavirus Patients

This sometimes fatal inflammation in the brain is usually found in children.

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Experts are still learning new things about the coronavirus and all the ways in which it can affect you. Though it is a respiratory virus, it does more than just attack the lungs. In fact, the coronavirus can impact your entire body, resulting in many different symptoms in different people. In some particularly frightening cases, COVID-19 affects the brain. A new study found indications that, in some patients, coronavirus causes acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a condition that causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. In rare cases, this brain condition possibly related to coronavirus can be fatal.

MRI digital x-ray of brain with team radiologist doctor oncology working together in clinic hospital. Medical healthcare concept. (MRI digital x-ray of brain with team radiologist doctor oncology working together in clinic hospital. Medical healthcare
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The study, which was published in the Brain journal on July 8 and led by experts at the University College London (UCL), observed 43 patients treated at the UCL Hospitals with either confirmed or suspected coronavirus from April to May. Within that group, they found that nine out of 12 of the patients with brain inflammation showed evidence of ADEM. These nine cases were discovered in a five-week period, with the researchers saying that, normally, they would expect to see that many cases in a five-month period. Therefore, "COVID-19 is associated with an increased incidence of ADEM," per the study's conclusions.

"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Ross Paterson, a joint author for the study, said in a statement released by UCL. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes. People recovering from the virus should seek professional health advice if they experience neurological symptoms."

ADEM is a rare condition that typically only affects young children, with more than 80 percent of cases found in children younger than 10, per WebMD. However the nine affected people in the study were all adults, ages 27 to 66.

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The researchers found a number of neurological problems in coronavirus patients, including delirium, stroke, nerve damage, and potentially fatal brain inflammation—even in patients who appeared to have milder COVID-19 cases with no visible severe respiratory symptoms. In the 43 patients observed, researchers found 12 cases of brain inflammation, 10 cases of delirium, eight cases of strokes, and eight with nerve damage.

One of the most abnormal patients the study outlined was a 55-year-old woman with no previous psychiatric history, who was admitted due to a 14-day occurrence of fever, cough, muscle aches, and breathlessness. And while she was well enough to be discharged within three days, she reportedly started experiencing neurological problems once discharged, including disoriented behaviors and visual hallucinations that had her "seeing lions and monkeys in her house."

And for strange conditions, check out 50 Percent of Coronavirus Patients Experience This Terrifying Side Effect.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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