'Up to 1/3' of COVID-19 patients experience neurological manifestations

The study is the largest systematic review and meta-analysis of COVID-19 symptoms to date, the study authors said, barring other ongoing studies.

COVID-19 face mask (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
COVID-19 face mask
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)
A recent study claims that "up to one-third" of COVID-19 patients developed neurological symptoms after contracting the novel coronavirus.
The most common neurological manifestations included fatigue (32%), myalgia (20%), taste impairment (21%), smell impairment (19%) and headache (13%). Other rarer occurrences, such as stroke (2%) - one in 50 patients - or acute confusion or delirium (34%) were also prevalent.
It is not clear if the manifestations are bidirectional, considering patients who are critically ill are more likely to experience multi-organ system dysfunction over the course of their hospital stay.
"Critically, the pooled prevalence in our review for the diagnosis of stroke was 2%, with data extracted from 29 studies; the majority of studies reported prevalence between 1-3%," the study authors wrote. "To our knowledge this is the first time that pooled prevalence for stroke has been reported in COVID-19 patients and indicates an alarming, enduring neurological morbidity associated with the pandemic."
It is noted that the chance of stroke is "far higher" when compared to what has been reported on influenza patients.
"One recent study compared the risk of stroke in COVID-19 versus influenza and found the prevalence of stroke to be 0.2% in influenza versus 1.2% in COVID-19," the authors explained.
The study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, noted that the presence of these neurological symptoms in the over 60 age groups were associated with "near doubling of mortality" of these patients.
Research for the study was based off an analysis of 350 studies, which provided data on 145,634 COVID-19 patients from 55 countries. Some 89% of those patients were hospitalized. Some 41 different neurological manifestations - 24 symptoms and 17 diagnoses - were identified in total.
Diagnoses included anything from acute cerebrovascular events, to ischemic stroke, to hemorrhagic stroke and cerebral venous thrombosis.
The prevalence of neuropsychiatric disorders stood at 24% - close to one in four hospitalized patients - while physical issues such as skeletal muscle injuries affected 5% of the patients.
"Acute confusion/delirium is significantly more common in older people who have COVID-19, with data from five studies demonstrating 1 in 3 hospitalized older COVID-19 patients are affected," the authors said, comparing it to the 5% of young adults who also experienced the same neurological manifestations.
Most of the patients surveyed in the study had pre-existing medical conditions before their hospitalization with COVID-19, including hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, among others.
"Our review shows that pre-existing neurological conditions are a common comorbidity associated with COVID-19," the study authors said. "After hypertension and diabetes, the combined comorbidity of cardiovascular/cerebrovascular disease was the third most commonly reported comorbidity associated with COVID-19.
"Disaggregated data released from national and international COVID-19 registries similarly indicates a high prevalence of pre-existing neurological conditions and additionally an association with severe disease."
The study is the largest systematic review and meta-analysis of COVID-19 symptoms to date, the study authors said, barring other ongoing studies.
Their findings were published in the medical journal MedRxiv.