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Brain complications affect one in 100 COVID patients

In the largest study of its kind, an international team of researchers has investigated the range of brain complications associated with COVID-19 infection. The experts determined that about one in 100 patients who required hospitalization for COVID-19 have developed potentially fatal complications of the central nervous system, such as stroke. 

Study lead author Dr. Scott H. Faro is the director of the Division of Neuroradiology/Head & Neck Imaging at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. 

“Much has been written about the overall pulmonary problems related to COVID-19, but we do not often talk about the other organs that can be affected,” said Dr. Faro. “Our study shows that central nervous system complications represent a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in this devastating pandemic.”

Dr. Faro initiated the research upon finding that existing literature on brain complications in hospitalized COVID-19 patients was very limited, and based on a small number of cases. 

The study was focused on data from nearly 40,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in seven U.S. and four western European university hospitals. The patients, who had an average age of 66, had been admitted between September 2019 and June 2020.  

According to the data analysis, the most common cause of admission was confusion and altered mental state, followed by fever.  

Neuroimaging findings (which likely resulted from COVID-19 infection) affected 442 patents. This means the overall incidence of central nervous system or brain complications was 1.2 percent.

“Of all the inpatients who had imaging such as MRI or a CT scan of brain, the exam was positive approximately 10% of the time,” said Dr. Faro. “The incidence of 1.2% means that a little more than one in 100 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 are going to have a brain problem of some sort.”

The experts report that the most common complication was ischemic stroke, followed by intracranial hemorrhage and inflammation of the brain.

“It is important to know an accurate incidence of all the major central nervous system complications,” said Dr. Faro. “There should probably be a low threshold to order brain imaging for patients with COVID-19.”

The research will be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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