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Neurological symptoms may be the first sign of COVID-19 infection

After reviewing published studies on the neurological symptoms of COVID-19 patients, researchers at Northwestern University have determined that the disease threatens the entire nervous system. The experts report that the first sign of COVID-19 infection may be neurological symptoms, which can appear before fever or respiratory symptoms. 

The study revealed that about half of hospitalized COVID-19 patients have neurological symptoms, including dizziness, headache, mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, lack of smell and taste, seizures, strokes, weakness, and muscle pain.

Study lead author Dr. Igor Koralnik is a professor of Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“It’s important for the general public and physicians to be aware of this, because a SARS-COV-2 infection may present with neurologic symptoms initially, before any fever, cough or respiratory problems occur,” said Dr. Koralnik.

In a review published today in the journal Annals of Neurology, the researchers describe the different neurological conditions that may arise in COVID-19 patients and how to diagnose these conditions. “This understanding is key to direct appropriate clinical management and treatment,” said Dr. Koralnik.

According to the findings, COVID-19 has the potential to impact the entire nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles.

Dr. Koralnik explained that there are many different ways COVID-19 can cause neurological dysfunction. For example, the virus may directly infect the brain and meninges, or the body’s immune response may cause inflammation that can damage the brain and nerves.

In addition, since COVID-19 can affect multiple organs, the brain may suffer from lack of oxygenation or from blood clotting, which increases the risk of stroke.

The study authors have now formed a Neuro-COVID research team that is currently investigating neurological symptoms among all COVID-19 patients that have been hospitalized at Northwestern Medicine. The experts want to determine the frequency and type of neurological complications, as well as their response to treatment.

Dr. Koralnik will follow up with some patients in his new outpatient Neuro-COVID clinic to analyze the long-term health outcomes of neurologic COVID-19 complications. These studies will form the foundation for diagnosing, managing, and treating the neurological manifestations of COVID-19, said Dr. Koralnik.

The research is published in the journal Annals of Neurology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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