New Study From Northwestern Medicine Shows Neurological Problems In COVID-19 Long-Haulers Are Real – CBS Chicago


CHICAGO (CBS) — New scientific evidence announced Monday connects brain fog and COVID-19 – as part of a groundbreaking study from Northwestern Medicine.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, some COVID-19 patients have long complained of brain fog, memory problems, and cognitive issues, and some were told it was all in their head. The new research shows it’s not.

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The researchers here at Northwestern Medicine said they have scientific evidence that COVID-19 can create brain inflammation, and in some cases, brain damage.

“It was odd that a 34-year-old – or 33-year-old at the time – couldn’t stay awake past noon or couldn’t remember the steps to brush their teeth,” said Samantha Lewis, a COVID long-hauler and Northwestern Medicine patient.

Lewis contracted COVID-19 in October 2020, and ever since, she has struggled with anxiety, memory loss, fatigue and even remembering her daily routine.

“I couldn’t manage my finances anymore,” she said. “I couldn’t drive anymore.”

Lewis is one of 64 participants in a study, which included hospitalized COVID-19 patients, non-hospitalized COVID long-haulers, and healthy control subjects.

“Many patients probably feel that their symptoms are dismissed – or, as it were, just might be all in their heads,” said Dr. Barbara Hanson, of the Northwestern Medicine Neuro COVID-19 research lab.

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But Hanson and Dr. Igor Koralnik – chief of neuro-infectious diseases at Northwestern Medicine – discovered that these patients are not imagining the symptoms at all.

“Some of those patients who had a mild infection to begin with may also have a persistent presence of COVID in the body,” Koralnik said.

The researchers looked blood markers of brain damage and brain inflammation – and for the seriously ill, hospitalized COVID patients in the study, researchers found evidence of both.

When it comes to long-haulers who didn’t necessarily have serious COVID infections, they didn’t find the same blood markers – but they did find brain inflammation connected to the anxiety that some of these patients feel.

“We found that those who are experiencing anxiety have a much higher rate of evidence of neuro-inflammation than those who are not experiencing anxiety,” said Hanson.

The researchers hope to use that evidence to help bring patients like Lewis the clarity that she’s seeking.

“We take those days as we come, and we try to apply all of the strategies that we learned in cognitive rehab to have better days,” Lewis said.

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So far, research shows that about one third of all those who have had COVID experience long-haul symptoms. Dr. Koralnik has seen 1,200 patients so far in the Neuro COVID-19 research lab.

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