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Post-COVID Neurological Sequelae

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Post-COVID Neurological Sequelae

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For Long-term neurological complications and their management in COVID-affected people, read the article below to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Published At November 2, 2021
Reviewed AtMay 20, 2024

Introduction:

Though the infectivity rates of COVID-19 appear to decrease at certain intervals, they do not seem to leave this planet permanently. Simultaneous highs in infectivity rates cannot be ignored. The long-term complications of COVID in people who got infected and recovered successfully from COVID-19 continue to be a concern. And this article discusses in detail the possible long-term neurological health effects in COVID-affected people and ways to manage them.

What Does Post-COVID Sequel Mean?

During the COVID wave, only the acute phase of this disease was concerned, and recovering from COVID symptoms meant being free from the deadly hold of COVID. But with time, the mutating Coronavirus has been challenging human survival and health by causing severe infections and lingering symptoms for months or years after complete recovery from acute COVID symptoms. People have been continuously suffering from one or the other health ailment such as insomnia, fatigue, clotting issues, depression, hair loss, etc., for months after the initial infection and recovery. These are termed post-COVID sequelae or complications, long COVID, or long-term effects of COVID-19. These complications can affect any system of the human body, most commonly the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, nervous, urinary, and respiratory systems.

Why Do Post-COVID Neurological Complications Occur?

In certain predisposed individuals, weak and dysregulated immune reactions towards the Coronavirus, its incomplete eradication, and invasion of the central nervous system by the virus with subsequent neurodegeneration are thought to be the cause of neurological complications in COVID survivors.

The Coronavirus is known to cross the blood-brain barrier. The virus is found to remain in the cerebrospinal fluid and cytoplasm of neurons. These viral particles can either attack the nerve tissue directly or indirectly due to immune-mediated reactions. The Coronavirus can invade nerve tissues such as glial cells, astrocytes, etc., and attack the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors in them, which may be the cause of smell and taste loss in the acute phase.

These viral particles are also believed to reside in the nerve cells in a latent phase, and in the presence of triggering factors, they get reactivated to cause such post-COVID complications.

What Investigations Are Done In People With Post-COVID Neurological Complications?

Based on the type of neurological symptom and its severity, the following tests are ordered.

  • Nerve conduction tests.

  • Creatine phosphokinase test.

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain.

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG).

  • Blood pressure and heart rate measurements.

  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis.

  • Autoimmune antibody test.

  • Polysomnogram.

  • Kidney function test.

  • Liver function test.

  • Complete blood count.

  • Blood sugar levels and ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate).

  • Cognitive function assessment.

  • Respiratory rate.

  • Oxygen saturation.

What Are the Post-COVID Neurological Complications and Their Management?

After the so-called successful recovery from acute COVID, a majority of the population is still found to experience prevailing neurological symptoms affecting their quality of life. This cannot be underestimated as these too could cause life-threatening complications without any warning signs. Some of the important post-acute COVID neurological complications and treatment approaches are discussed below.

Fatigue - This is the most commonly encountered neurological symptom during and after COVID. This is a debilitating condition. In people experiencing chronic fatigue for more than six months of initial infection, chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalitis is suspected. In such individuals, fatigue may be present all time, get aggravated with physical strain, and have an unrefreshing sleep. Such people sleep all night and still wake up exhausted—their ability to perform physical activities, which they used to perform well before COVID is impaired. Even after adequate rest, they feel tired. Their cognitive functions can also be impaired while under stress or with exertion.

  • Management: The following treatment strategies are advised for people with post-COVID fatigue for more than six months,

  • Take adequate rest and sleep.

  • Drink plenty of fluids (2 to 3 liters a day).

  • Do not perform highly exertional activities that cause physical strain. Do not limit the daily tasks; instead, make ways to utilize the energy by spreading the tasks and working on them with equal minimal exertion over a longer period with alternating rest periods (pacing).

  • Practice mild aerobic exercises such as walking, breathing exercises, strength training, etc., and increase the intensity gradually (graded exercise therapy).

  • People can also take Vitamin C tablets after consulting the physician and avoid frequently self-medicating with painkillers.

Headache - COVID-affected people are known to experience headaches of different intensities and frequencies for months after testing positive for the infection. For some, the headache is a new onset, and for others, it exacerbates their existing migraines. Experts say that if a person experience only a headache post-COVID, it might not actually be due to COVID and can be due to the weather, stress, allergies, etc.

  • Management: There is no definitive management strategy to handle COVID-related headaches.

  • A person can take over-the-counter painkillers but with caution. Do not self-medicate with these painkillers for more than a week, as the medication can cause rebound headaches.

  • The same holds true for caffeine intake. Do not consume excessive amounts of caffeine to seek relief.

  • Manage stress and correct the allergies, vision problems, food habits, etc. These, too, are possible causes of headaches.

  • If a person have had migraines in the past, then consult the doctor to get the migraine medications prescribed.

Sleeping Disorders - COVID infection can leave a person with sleeping disorders such as impaired sleep, sleeplessness, difficulty achieving sound sleep, difficulty falling asleep, etc. And this can persist for up to a year. Dealing with sleep issues for such a long period might cause adverse health effects such as hypertension, lack of focus and alertness, diabetes, weight gain, etc.

  • Management: For sleep disorders, initially, non-pharmacological management methods are suggested.

  • Avoid using smartphones or devices with blue light-emitting screens at least two hours before the bedtime.

  • Limit the intake of caffeine and make sure a person do not consume caffeinated drinks and foods such as chocolate post-late afternoon.

  • Do not consume alcohol before bedtime.

  • Make the bedroom surrounding sleep-friendly. Make the room temperature comfortable enough to sleep (not too cold, not too hot), listen to melodious sleep-inducing music or ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), sleep trigger sounds, and dim the lights.

  • Before the bedtime, a person can practice relaxation techniques like guided imagery, meditation, breathing techniques, etc.

  • If all these efforts do not fetch the expected results, a person can consult a physician to prescribe the sleeping doses.

Dysautonomia - In this condition, the autonomic nervous system that controls the involuntary functions of our body, such as heartbeat, breathing, digestion, etc., is affected. This leads to symptoms such as shortness of breath, fainting, tightness of the chest, palpitation, constipation, headache, low blood sugar, dizziness, focusing problems, etc. Since this condition can include symptoms specific to various systems, investigations are done to understand whether or not the symptoms are due to specific diseases like respiratory problems, endocrine disorders, etc., or are due to dysautonomia. This leads to effective cause-based management.

  • Management:

  • Avoid certain triggering factors such as alcohol, caffeine, dehydration, hot climatic conditions, and certain drugs (Nortriptyline, Duloxetine).

  • Use compression garments.

  • Include strength and resistance training.

  • Drink plenty of fluids (2 to 3 liters per day).

  • Include one to two tablespoons of salt in the diet.

Impaired Cognitive Function - The impaired cognitive functions might persist for more than a year of the initial infection. They include brain fog, problems focusing, lack of concentration, poor memory, confusion, dizziness, etc. Also, these cognitive impairments are pronounced in those who had severe COVID with ICU (intensive care unit) admission and ventilation.

  • Management:

  • At-home remedies are helpful, such as reading books or newspapers, solving puzzles, making daily calculations manually rather than using calculators or mobiles, etc.

  • Measures should be taken to balance stress (if present) as this too could worsen the COVID-related cognitive impairment.

  • Finally, the help of cognitive-behavioral therapists can be sought for better results.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome - This syndrome, if about to occur in COVID patients, can occur within 10 days of infection or weeks after recovery. It is an acute polyradiculoneuropathy where the viral infection triggers the body’s immune system to attack its own nerve cells. It is characterized by limb weakness, paraesthesia, muscle weakness, numbness, tingling sensations in the skin, respiratory insufficiency, cardiac arrhythmias, facial palsy, etc. Thankfully it is a rare post-COVID sequela.

  • Management:

  • Intravenous Immunoglobulins.

  • Plasma therapy.

  • In severe conditions, ventilator support might be needed.

Stroke - COVID-19 is known to trigger the inflammatory response to cause thrombotic or clotting events in certain infected people, especially those with severe infection and with underlying health conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. Both ischemic and intracerebral hemorrhage is known to occur. Numbness on one side of the body, blurry vision, confusion, speaking difficulties, imbalance, loss of coordination, and headache are alarming signs. Immediate medical management is necessary.

  • Management:

  • If a person experience any signs of stroke, they should reach a stroke management center within 4.5 hours for successful management.

  • Clot dissolution or clot removal techniques will be performed based on the severity.

Epilepsy - This is also a rare post-COVID complication. Due to cytokine storms, seizures can also occur in an otherwise healthy individual.

  • Management: Epilepsy management in COVID patients is similar to that of the standard epilepsy treatment.

  • Antiepileptic drugs such as Lorazepam, Phenytoin, Levetiracetam, Midazolam, etc., are given.

  • Those with preexisting epilepsy should take their routine antiepileptic drugs without fail.

Conclusion:

The global concern for post-COVID complications is rising as these impact the quality of life. People who recovered from severe COVID, the elderly, and those with comorbid conditions are at risk of developing long COVID. Therefore, long COVID symptoms such as headache, fatigue, lack of mental clarity, etc., should not be underestimated, and prompt medical care should be sought.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

Can Long-Term Neurological Problems Occur After COVID?

There is proof that COVID-19 may result in long-term neurological issues. Several COVID-19 sufferers have described experiencing weariness, memory loss, and difficulties concentrating long after their respiratory symptoms have resolved. The virus has sometimes induced brain inflammation, resulting in more serious neurological symptoms. However, the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the brain are still poorly understood, so it's crucial for people who have recovered from the virus to keep an eye on their neurological health and get help if they notice any unsettling symptoms.

2.

What Are the Neurological Issues Associated With COVID?

Many neurological problems have been linked to COVID-19 in certain patients. Symptoms could include weakness, headaches, loss of taste or smell, lightheadedness, confusion, seizures, or strokes. In addition, there is evidence that the virus may contribute to brain inflammation, resulting in long-term neurological impairment. Delirium or other altered mental states may also occur in certain people with severe COVID-19 instances. Researchers are still researching this topic to learn more about the virus's effects on the nervous system and potential long-term repercussions.

3.

What Do You Mean by a Neurological Sequelae?

Any long-term or irreversible damage to the nervous system resulting from an illness, trauma, or accident is referred to as neurological sequelae. It may manifest as symptoms, including sensory loss, paralysis, convulsions, and cognitive impairment. These ailments are frequently persistent and can significantly lower someone's quality of life. The affected person's location, extent, age, and health all play a role in the severity and type of sequelae. Therefore, therapy methods often concentrate on symptom management and functional ability enhancement.

4.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on the Brain?

There is still much to learn. However, some evidence points to possible long-term brain impacts of COVID-19. For example, one study discovered that COVID-19 patients had less grey matter in specific brain regions, and another discovered that some patients exhibited cognitive deficits like memory loss and attention problems. In addition, even months after the virus has been treated, some individuals have described having neurological symptoms such as headaches, vertigo, and disorientation.

5.

How to Recover From COVID Brain Damage?

Although there is no specific treatment for COVID brain injury, therapy and rehabilitation can help to enhance the quality of life and cognitive function. While occupational therapy can assist with daily activities and relearning skills, physical therapy can enhance muscle strength and coordination. In addition, speech therapy can improve language and communication skills. Moreover, emotional and psychological issues like anxiety and depression can be helped with expert mental health treatment.

6.

How Long Is the Neurological Sequel Present After Infection?

The time that neurological repercussions manifest varies depending on the situation at hand and the degree of the harm. The symptoms can last a few days in certain situations, while weeks or months may pass before they return. Some individuals might have ongoing neurological deficits.
To lessen the danger of long-term neurological consequences, the best action is to seek medical assistance immediately and receive proper therapy. Programs for rehabilitation may also be helpful in regaining functionality and lessening the effects of neurological sequelae.

7.

Explain What a Post-covid Syndrome Is?

The term "post-COVID syndrome" describes a collection of enduring symptoms that may remain for weeks or months following the acute phase of COVID-19. These signs may include weakness, breathlessness, joint and chest pain, mental fog, depression, and anxiety. Young and old persons can both develop post-COVID syndrome after experiencing mild or severe COVID-19 cases. Unfortunately, this illness has no specific cure, and its exact etiology is still not entirely understood.

8.

What Are the Symptoms of Neurological Deficits?

Confusion, memory loss, trouble speaking or understanding speech, a sudden onset of an intense headache, seizures, weakness or paralysis in one or more limbs, changes in vision, loss of coordination, and changes in behavior or personality are common indicators of neurological degeneration. Tremors, loss of sensation, trouble with balance, and difficulty walking are some more potential symptoms.

9.

Is It Possible to Cure Neurological Problems?

Depending on the nature of the neurological issue. Treatment options for some neurological conditions include drugs, therapies, or surgeries that can lessen symptoms or even cure the underlying problem. Some neurological conditions, however, might not be curable but can be controlled with medicine and therapy to raise the patient's quality of life. Therefore, a healthcare specialist should be consulted to decide the best course for a neurological condition.

10.

What Are Post-COVID Symptoms That Are Serious?

Mild-to-severe post-COVID symptoms are possible. Some people encounter exhaustion, respiratory issues, and a loss of taste or smell. Others might experience lung or heart damage, long-term neurological problems, depression, or anxiety. Also, studies have revealed that COVID-19 survivors run the danger of kidney damage, blood clots, and other major health issues. People should be aware of any post-COVID symptoms and seek medical help if they exhibit any unsettling signs.

11.

Which Neurological Disorder Is the Worst?

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is now thought to be the most severe neurological condition following COVID-19. There is inflammation in the brain and spinal cord due to this uncommon but severe illness, which can cause seizures, confusion, and movement problems. Although the precise relationship between COVID-19 and ADEM is still not entirely understood, it appears that the virus can cause certain patients to develop an immunological reaction, which can harm the neurological system. Guillain-Barre syndrome, stroke, and encephalitis are a few more neurological conditions connected to COVID-19.

12.

Which Neurological Disorder Is the Worst?

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is now thought to be the most severe neurological condition following COVID-19. There is inflammation in the brain and spinal cord due to this uncommon but severe illness, which can cause seizures, confusion, and movement problems. Although the precise relationship between COVID-19 and ADEM is still not entirely understood, it appears that the virus can cause certain patients to develop an immunological reaction, which can harm the neurological system. Guillain-Barre syndrome, stroke, and encephalitis are a few more neurological conditions connected to COVID-19.

13.

Can Blood Tests Detect Neurological Problems?

A blood test by itself cannot identify neurological issues in Covid-19 patients. It can, however, reveal the extent of the illness and any potential effects on the nervous system. In addition, increased levels of several markers in the blood, including C-reactive protein (CRP), D-dimer, and ferritin, can indicate a more severe infection and a greater chance of neurological sequelae. Consequently, to identify and treat neurological problems in Covid-19 patients, a combination of clinical evaluations, imaging examinations, and blood tests is required.
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Dr. Abhishek Juneja
Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Neurology

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post-covid neurological sequelae
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