Even A Mild Case Of COVID-19 Can Cause Your Brain To Shrink
(CTN News) – A recent brain imaging study of Covid-19 shows the disease can cause physical changes equivalent to a decade of aging and lead to attention and memory problems. Researchers are still trying to figure out why.
For three and a half days, Elena Katzap was bedridden with fever and coughing from COVID-19. Los Angeles writer and teacher contracted the virus at the end of January 2022, and she was grateful that she only got a mild case. She didn’t have breathing difficulties, she didn’t need to stay in the hospital, and she recovered within days.
“God it feels so good to be healthy again,” says Katzap. Suddenly, the next day, I was smacked with nausea and some stomach issues, and some weird forgetfulness.
Katzap has suffered from memory loss and concentration issues since then. She stutters and runs out of words mid-sentence. “It’s not painful, but it’s so frustrating,” she complains.
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The drastic impact of COVID-19 on the brain
The strongest evidence for neurological damage after mild COVID-19 comes from British scientists who studied people before and after they contracted the disease.
As part of the UK Biobank project, 785 participants between 51 and 81 years old, who had already been scanned before the pandemic began, were scanned on average three years apart. Medical records revealed that 401 of the 401 volunteers had been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Most had mild infections; only 15 of the 401 were hospitalized.
Counting mild COVID-19 cases
A major concern beyond pinpointing the causes is that it is difficult to count how many COVID-19 patients have developed cognitive problems, in part because they don’t always manifest immediately after infection.
Richard Newman, a former US Army soldier, and current IT manager in Houston, Texas, experienced this first-hand. As a result of a severe COVID-19 infection, he spent two weeks in the intensive care unit in June 2021. It was a month after he was discharged from the hospital that he began experiencing cognitive problems.
“I knew their face, but I couldn’t recall their name,” says Newman. Eight months after being diagnosed with COVID-19, his symptoms have not improved. He says it is debilitating and affects your quality of life.
“We need to move away from quantifying the disease’s impact solely in terms of deaths and severe cases,” says Douaud, “since evidence from studies of long COVID, as well as our study, shows that even mild infections can cause harm.”