Spinal fluid abnormalities linked to COVID-19 long haulers' brain fog, study finds


Researchers at the University of California San Francisco and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City found a link between people with post-recovery brain fog and abnormalities in their spinal fluid that surrounds the brain.

Some patients who develop cognitive symptoms after a mild case of COVID-19 have abnormalities in their cerebrospinal fluid similar to those found in people with other infectious diseases, according to the study, which could provide insights into how COVID-19 affects the brain.

Thirty-two adults participated in the study; 22 had cognitive symptoms and 10 control participants did not. Researchers examined the cerebrospinal fluid of 17 participants who consented to lumbar puncture. All participants recovered from COVID-19 and did not require hospitalization.

Ten of 13 participants with cognitive symptoms had anomalies in their cerebrospinal fluid, but all four of the fluid samples from individuals with no cognitive symptoms post-infection were normal, the study found.

The individuals with cognitive symptoms presented had executive functioning issues, such as difficulty paying attention and trouble starting or completing tasks, according to Joanna Hellmuth, MD, senior author of the study, published Jan. 18 in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. "They manifest as problems remembering recent events, coming up with names or words, staying focused, and issues with holding on to and manipulating information, as well as slowed processing speed."

Those with cognitive symptoms also had an average of 2.5 cognitive risk factors, compared with an average of less than one risk factor in the control group. Risk factors included anxiety, depression, diabetes and hypertension, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and alcohol or drug abuse.

The study suggests the more risk factors someone has, the more likely they are to experience cognitive issues post-COVID-19. No participant's conditions worsened over time, but it is too early to tell whether symptoms may spontaneously disappear.

Dr. Hellmuth said she hopes further research will help develop effective treatments for cognitive symptoms as a result of COVID-19. Cognitive symptoms have also been identified in other viruses, including HIV, hepatitis C and the coronaviruses SARS and MERS.

Click here to read more on the study.

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