Neurological symptoms continue to plague patients with long COVID

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A new longitudinal study is tracking neurological symptoms in people with long COVID and found while many patients showed improvement, the majority still were showing symptoms after six months.

The first round of results, published in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, and conducted by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine followed 56 people with neurological symptoms after contracting mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infections. Recruited between October 2020 and October 2021, participants completed a neurological exam, cognitive assessment, self-reported questionnaires, and an optional brain scan. Baseline measurements were taken a few months after their initial infection and repeated three and six months later, according to the study.

The goal for the researchers was to capture the acute and long-term neurologic sequelae of COVID-19 infection in those with and without prior neurologic disease. Symptoms are being tracked with the goal of a 10-year follow-up period. This study revealed the current baseline and six-month follow-up data from the study’s participants.

At the time of their first visit, 89 percent of participants were experiencing fatigue and 80 percent reported headaches. They also experienced memory impairment, insomnia, and decreased concentration. Eighty percent of participants said these symptoms impacted their quality of life. 

When participants returned for their six-month follow-up, only one-third reported complete resolution of symptoms. The other two-thirds of participants reported persistent neurological symptoms, though most had diminished in severity. The most prevalent symptoms at six months were memory impairment, and decreased concentration, according to the study.

“It’s encouraging that most people were showing some improvement at six months, but that wasn’t the case for everyone,” said senior author Jennifer Graves, MD, PhD, associate professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and neurologist at UC San Diego Health in a statement. “Some of these participants are high-level professionals who we’d expect to score above average on cognitive assessments, but months after having COVID-19, they’re still scoring abnormally.” 

Researchers also found that participants displayed a previously unidentified set of symptoms that included cognitive deficits, tremor, and difficulty balancing. The authors labeled the phenotype Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 infection with Tremor, Ataxia and Cognitive deficit (PASC-TAC).

“To have people’s cognition and quality of life still impacted so long after infection is something we as a society need to be taking a serious look at,” said Graves. “We still need to know how common this is, what biological processes are causing this, and what ongoing healthcare these people will need. This work is an important first step to getting there.”