Brain fog following COVID-19 may indicate PTSD, study finds

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Lingering brain fog and other neurological symptoms after the novel coronavirus (COVID -19) recovery may be due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an effect observed in past human coronavirus outbreaks, according to a new report published in The Clinical Neuropsychologist.

Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 sometimes experience lingering difficulties in concentration, as well as headaches, anxiety, fatigue, or sleep disruptions. Patients may fear that the infection has permanently damaged their brains, but researchers said that's not necessarily the case.

Reviewing data from the SARS and MERS outbreaks, the researchers showed that those survivors had heightened risk for PTSD. In the case of COVID-19, the symptoms of PTSD may arise in response to the invasive measures needed to treat the patients, including intubation and ventilation, which can be traumatic for patients. Other times, delirium causes patients with COVID-19 to suffer hallucinations, and the memory of these terrifying sensations continues to plague the recovered patient, the researchers said.

In addition to patients who have been hospitalized, frontline healthcare providers can be similarly affected due to the constant stress and fear they face at work. For some people, the anxiety of living through a pandemic, being isolated from friends, and battling the constant fear of an invisible threat can deliver a similar blow to thinking and memory skills, according to the study.

While a PTSD diagnosis might not sound like good news, there are many available treatments for the disorder, including psychotherapy and medications. If the symptoms are due, even partially, to a psychiatric condition such as PTSD, treatment will help manage those symptoms, and provide a clearer view of any underlying brain issues, the researchers said.

By comparison, researchers are working to understand the direct neurological effects of COVID-19.

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.