By Alice Clifford via SWNS
COVID-19 can alter the brain, a new study reveals.
A special type of MRI has uncovered brain changes in patients up to six months after they recovered from the virus.
These changes can lead to difficulties with thinking and concentrating, and cause headaches, sleep problems, light-headedness, pins-and-needles, change in smell or taste, and depression or anxiety.
Other studies have found that the virus can also cause changes in other organs such as the heart and lungs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five adults who get the virus will develop long-term effects from COVID-19.
The Office for National Statistics reported that in the UK there is an estimated two million people living with long-COVID, making up three percent of the population.
Even asymptomatic patients can suffer from long-COVID.
Researchers used a unique MRI machine that used susceptibility-weighted imaging to see the effects of COVID-19 on the brain.
This new type of machine can show certain materials, such as blood, iron and calcium in the brain.
Through this, it can detect many neurological conditions such as microbleeds, abnormal development of blood vessels, brain tumors and signs of stroke.
The researchers analyzed the data of 46 people who had recovered from COVID-19 as well as 30 people who had never contracted the virus.
Among patients with long-COVID, the most commonly reported symptoms were fatigue, trouble sleeping, lack of attention and memory issues.
The MRI results showed that those who had recovered from COVID-19 had significantly higher susceptibility values in the frontal lobe and brain stem compared to people of normal brain health.
Sapna Mishra, a Ph.D. candidate at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, and co-author of the study explained: “These brain regions are linked with fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches and cognitive problems.”
The imaging was done within six months of recovery.
The cluster obtained in the frontal lobe primarily showed changes in white matter.
White matter is found in the deepest tissues of the brain and is made up of millions of nerve fibers that connect parts of the brain and link the brain to the spinal cord.
Through changes in white matter, the brain finds it harder to transfer information, leading to difficulties with memory, mobility and balance.
These clusters in the frontal lobe were made up of three elements.
They were made up of portions of the left orbital-inferior frontal gyrus, which is a key region for language comprehension and production, the right orbital-inferior frontal gyrus, which is associated with functions like attention, motor inhibition, imagery, social cognitive processes, and processing speech and language, and finally white matter.
As a result, those who have recovered from COVID-19 can suffer from difficulty thinking or concentrating, headaches and tiredness.
They also found significant differences in the right ventral diencephalon region in the brain.
This region is linked to many key bodily functions such as releasing hormones, sending sensory and motor signals to the outer surface of the brain, which processes thought, emotion, language and memory, and the body’s daily sleep and wake cycle.
“Group-level studies have not previously focused on COVID-19 changes in magnetic susceptibility of the brain despite several case reports signaling such abnormalities," Mishra said.
“Our study highlights this new aspect of the neurological effects of COVID-19 and reports significant abnormalities in COVID survivors.
“Changes in susceptibility values of brain regions may be indicative of local compositional changes.
“Susceptibilities may reflect the presence of abnormal quantities of paramagnetic compounds, whereas lower susceptibility could be caused by abnormalities like calcification or lack of paramagnetic molecules containing iron.”
She added: “This study points to serious long-term complications that may be caused by the coronavirus, even months after recovery from the infection.
“The present findings are from the small temporal window. However, the longitudinal time points across a couple of years will elucidate if there exists any permanent change.”
The researchers are now conducting a study on the same patient cohort to determine whether these brain abnormalities persist over a longer time frame.
These findings will be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago which will run between November 27 to December 1.
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