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Study suggests Covid increases risk of ‘mental fog’ and other brain disorders

BBC public

Published on 08/18/2022 08:46

    (credit: Getty Images)

(credit: Getty Images)

A study from Oxford University in the United Kingdom showed that diagnoses of dementia, epilepsy and “mental fog” are more common two years after contracting the virus than other respiratory infections.

However, other conditions, such as anxiety and depression, did not become more frequent in people with coronavirus between 2020 and 2021, according to the research.

More work is needed to understand how and why Covid can lead to other conditions that affect the brain and well-being.

In general, experts say, the virus has disrupted daily life, as well as making people sick.

Previous research has shown that adults are more likely to develop brain and mental illness within six months of coming into contact with the coronavirus.

The latest study looked at the risk of suffering from 14 different disorders in 1.25 million patients who contracted the virus two years ago.

This group was then compared to another group, also comprising 1.25 million people, who had been diagnosed with other respiratory illnesses (such as the flu or a cold, for example).

In the group that contracted the virus two years ago, it was possible to observe more cases:

  • dementia, stroke and mental disorder in adults over 65 years of age;
  • ‘Mental fog’ in adults aged 18 to 64. This is a general term that scholars use to describe frameworks of confusion and forgetting, as if logic and memory were mixed;
  • Epilepsy and psychotic disorders in children, although their risks are few.

For example, the risk of children developing epilepsy after contracting the virus was 260 per 10 thousand people. In those with other respiratory diseases, this rate was 130 out of 10,000.

The likelihood of developing a psychotic disorder also increased after illness – it was 18 in 10,000 – but experts still consider it a rare condition.

The study also revealed that some disorders became less common two years after the injury, such as:

  • Anxiety and depression in children and adults.
  • Psychotic disorders in adults.

According to the survey, the increased risk of depression and anxiety in adults in the post-viral period lasts for less than two months before returning to levels considered normal.


Professor Paul Harrison, the study’s lead author, finds it “alarming” that some disorders, such as dementia and seizures, become more frequent after contracting the virus, even two years after a positive diagnosis.

But the specialist, who integrates the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, classifies as “good news” the fact that cases of depression and anxiety have a “short life” and are not observed in children.

The researchers note that the numbers of affected individuals were “difficult to ignore” but “did not form a tsunami”. However, some of them require medical attention, which can put more pressure on health services.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, didn’t track every participant during that time — instead, it pooled and compared the number of people who had a new diagnosis of the disorder in the two years after injury.

The article also did not look at the severity of each condition after diagnosis or how long they lasted, and whether the post-Covid illnesses described are similar to those of other infections.

The scientists also chose not to call these conditions a “long illness,” even though mental fog — or problems with memory and concentration — is a typical symptom.

A recent study suggests that the omicron variant, which has caused record new cases over the past few months, is associated with a lower likelihood of suffering from long-term symptoms compared to previous strains of the coronavirus.

However, although it causes a less severe acute condition than the delta variant, omicron appears to carry similar risks for brain and mental illness, according to a study from Oxford University.

‘social unrest’

The just-published study has some limitations – it didn’t look, for example, at how Covid causes brain and mental disorders, although some experts say this could be explained by the development of tiny blood clots.

Professors Jonathan Rogers and Glenn Lewis of University College London, who were not involved in the research, said the study highlighted “some clinical features that require further investigation”, but added that more work was needed to confirm the findings.

Professor David Menon, from the University of Cambridge (UK), calculates that the effect of staying in hospital with coronavirus is comparable to “20 years of old age”.

Paul Garner, Professor Emeritus at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (UK), points out that the pandemic has changed people’s lives in many ways.

He notes that the slight increases observed in conditions such as dementia and psychosis may be more related to “social disruption and the grim reality we live in, rather than being a direct effect of the virus.”

This text has been posted Originally in https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-62589473

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