(ORDO NEWS) — One in eight people who have had covid-19 will be diagnosed with a primary psychiatric or neurological illness within the first half of the year after testing positive for the virus, according to a new study. It presents evidence to highlight that the damage the virus causes to mental health and brain damage cannot be ignored.
The study – which is still subject to peer review – also found that rates rose to one in three cases when the analysis included patients with a history of psychiatric or neurological illness.
It was found that 1 in 9 people who fell ill were diagnosed with sequelae such as depression and stroke despite not needing hospitalization during the course of covid-19, which is quite surprising, notes study lead author Dr. Max Taquet of the psychiatric ward. Oxford University.
The researchers used electronic health records of 236,379 US hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients with confirmed covid-19 diagnoses who had the disease, comparing them to the group diagnosed with the flu and the group diagnosed with respiratory tract infections between 20 January to 13 December 2020.
The analysis, which also took into account risk factors such as age, gender, race, existing physical and mental predispositions and socio-economic disorder, revealed that the incidence of neurological and mental disorders within six months after suffering from coronavirus was 33.6%. In approximately 13%, these disorders were diagnosed for the first time.
This data complements the first study by Tucker and his colleagues, which showed that almost one in five people who have had covid-19, within three months after testing positive for coronavirus, a mental disorder is detected.
In their latest study, the researchers found that most of these diagnoses were more often made after covid-19 than after influenza and other respiratory infections – including strokes, acute intracranial or intracerebral hemorrhages, dementia and psychotic disorders.
Overall, covid-19 was associated with an increased risk of such diagnoses, but the incidence was higher among patients requiring hospital treatment, and also more pronounced in those who already had brain disease.
The question is how long the condition can persist after it has been diagnosed, notes Dr. Tucket. “We can hardly get an answer to this question now.”
He adds: “With regard to diagnoses such as stroke or intracranial hemorrhage, it seems that within six months the risk becomes much less … but for a number of neurological and psychiatric diseases, we do not yet have an answer when it can stop.”
It cannot be completely ruled out that some of the patients who have been diagnosed with a mental or neurological disorder after covid-19 had factors predisposing to this; however, the study indicated that in this case there is no question of this, the author believes.
Patients with influenza and other respiratory infections saw their healthcare provider more often than patients with covid-19, he says, adding that diagnoses such as intracranial hemorrhage or stroke cannot go unnoticed for long and were usually placed in emergency rooms.
The study does not prove that covid-19 directly entails these mental and neurological disorders, but another work is being prepared, which talks about the possible effects of the virus on the brain and central nervous system.
The analysis should also be interpreted with caution, given the possibility that the first appearance of a diagnosis in an electronic database may not be the first manifestation of a given disorder in a patient. These records usually lack other relevant information, such as density of residence, number of persons per household, employment and immigration status.
Dr Tim Nicholson, a psychiatrist and clinical professor at King’s College Hospital who was not involved in the study, says the findings will help nudge researchers to investigate what neurological and psychiatric complications warrant further close scrutiny.
“In my opinion, in particular, this will increase the attention to a number of disorders on this list, especially dementia and psychosis … and will move some of them into the list of potentially important consequences, for example, Guillain-Barré syndrome.”
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