Study: 1 in 3 patients with COVID-19 also experienced a psychiatric or neurological illness

One in three people who contracted the COVID-19 virus showed signs of a psychiatric or neurological illness within six months of their diagnosis, according to a study published Tuesday.

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The research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry on Tuesday, showed that about one-third of those in the study who were diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus had shown symptoms of some psychiatric illness or neurological disorder within six months of their diagnosis.

“We need urgent research to better understand how and why does this occur in patients with COVID-19, and how they can be treated and [how to] prevent it,” Max Taquet, a clinical fellow in psychiatry at the University of Oxford and a study co-author, said on a call with reporters on Tuesday. “But we think that regardless of the explanation, health services need to be prepared for the increased demand that this data is showing.”

The study used data on 81 million people in the United States to search for incidents of 13 brain disorders. Anxiety, mood and substance use disorders were the most commonly diagnosed disorders in the patients who had COVID-19, according to the study results.

Researchers then studied the records of 236,379 people who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and compared those health records to one group of patients who had been diagnosed with flu, another group who had been diagnosed with respiratory disease, and a third group who were hospitalized for unrelated conditions such as broken bones.]

Study results showed more serious neurological disorders in patients who had a more serious bout with the virus. Neurological disorders such as stroke, brain bleeding and dementia were seen in those who had severe symptoms from the virus. Researchers pointed out that the occurrences of such disorders were low.

Researchers found that 12.8% of those who were diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus were diagnosed with psychiatric and neurological disorders for the first time in their lives. The number of first-time diagnoses for the other groups was about half that number.

However, the results need to be put into context, according to one researcher who spoke to STAT News.

“It does highlight that there is something unique going on with COVID,” Allison Navis, assistant professor in the division of neuro-infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told STAT. Navis was not involved in the Lancet study.

“And the 12.8% who have a new diagnosis of something neuropsychiatric can sound very sensational,” Nevus said.

“That 12.8% encompasses depression and anxiety, so it’s extremely important to not minimize that and not make that sound like a lesser diagnosis at all, but the more severe things like strokes are still fairly uncommon. I don’t want people thinking that one in 10 people get a stroke with COVID,” Nevus added.

While researchers noted the increase in first-time diagnoses for those with COIVD-19, they also noted that anxiety over having the novel coronavirus could contribute to depression and anxiety.

“It could be psychological factors and biological factors and psychosocial factors, such as, for instance, the need to isolate and the loss of income as a result of that,” Taquet said on the call to reporters.

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