One-Third of COVID Survivors Were Later Diagnosed with Mental Health or Neurological Issues

Julie Mazziotta
·3 min read

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More than one in three people who recovered from COVID-19 were later diagnosed with neurological or mental health conditions, a large study found.

Researchers tracked more than 236,000 COVID-19 survivors, primarily in the U.S., to monitor their neurological health after they recovered from the virus. Of that group, 34% were diagnosed with a neurological or psychological condition within six months, the researchers said in the study, published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Of the 14 different conditions observed in the patients, anxiety was the most common diagnosis, found in 17% of people, followed by mood disorders, identified in 14%.

Fewer patients, 7%, had substance misuse disorders and 5% reported insomnia. And though it was rare, some developed severe neurological conditions like stroke and dementia. Within the group that had been hospitalized with COVID-19, 7% had a stroke during the following six months and almost 2% developed dementia.

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The majority of patients who had neurological conditions after their COVID-19 illness had been hospitalized, indicating they had a severe case of the virus, but many had milder cases that were treated at home.

"That rate increased progressively as the severity of the Covid-19 illness increased," Maxime Taquet, an academic clinical fellow in psychiatry at the University of Oxford and a co-author of the study, told CNN. "If we look at patients who were hospitalized that rate increased to 39%."

And for 13% of the patients in the study, this was the first time they had been diagnosed with any neurological or mental health problems.

"These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after COVID-19 and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too," lead author Paul Harrison said in a news brief. "While the latter are much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe COVID-19."

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Harrison and his fellow researchers also compared the health records from the COVID-19 patients to people who had other respiratory illnesses during the same time span, and found that the COVID-19 survivors were 44% more likely to develop mental health conditions than flu patients and 16% more likely than people with other respiratory tract infections.

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Harrison pointed out that COVID-19 survivors are going to need the health resources to deal with the long-term effects of the virus.

"Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and that many of these conditions are chronic," he said. "As a result, health care systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need, both within primary and secondary care services."