Research from the University of Oxford and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre has revealed that neurological and psychiatric diagnoses are more common after COVID-19 infection.
Using data from the US-based TriNetX electronic health record network of 1.25 million people following diagnosed COVID-19 infection, researchers investigated neurological and psychiatric diagnoses over two years.
In the study, published in The Lancet in August, researchers aimed to answer three questions – first, whether the increased risks of post-Covid infection returned to baseline after a specific time, secondly, if the risks were the same for children and adults, and thirdly, whether different COVID-19 variants changed the risk of further complications.
The data showed an increase in diagnoses of 14 neurological and psychiatric diagnoses including ischaemic stroke, brain fog, insomnia, dementia, psychotic disorders, and epilepsy or seizures post-COVID-19 infection.
The research revealed that the increased risk of anxiety and depression subsides within two months of COVID-19 and is no more likely to occur in patients than after other respiratory infections. However, diagnoses of neurological disorders are made more frequently after infection when compared to baseline figures.
When researchers looked at under 18s, they found that the risk of neurological disorders were generally lower than in adults, but seizures and psychotic disorders were found at higher rates in those children infected with Covid-19 in the two years previously.
More neurological and psychiatric disorders were seen during the delta variant wave than with the prior alpha variant. The omicron wave is associated with similar neurological and psychiatric risks as delta.
Understanding next steps
The research will inform longer-term strategy for policymakers, researchers, health services and patients considering the neurological and psychiatric burden of post- COVID-19 complications. Research Lead, NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow at the University of Oxford Dr Max Taquet, said:
“It is good news that the excess of depression and anxiety diagnoses after COVID-19 is short-lived and that it is not observed in children. However, it is worrying that some other disorders, such as dementia and seizures, continue to be more likely diagnosed after COVID-19, even two years later. It also appears that omicron, although less severe in acute illness, is followed by comparable rates of these diagnoses. The findings shed new light on the longer-term mental and brain health consequences for people following COVID-19 infection. The results have implications for patients and health services and highlight the need for more research to understand why this happens after COVID-19, and what can be done to prevent these disorders from occurring, or treat them when they do.”
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