People with long-term Covid suffer physical alterations to their brains, a study has shown.
MRIs of patients still suffering from symptoms six months after the initial infection show clusters in parts of the brain linked to fatigue, headaches and cognition.
These include the areas of the frontal lobe and the brainstem.
The Indian researchers behind the study say it is the first to show that Covid causes physical changes in the brain that last for months.
Other studies have shown that the virus can also cause changes in other organs such as the heart and lungs.
Long Covid is not a specific condition with a definite diagnosis, but rather an amalgamation of different symptoms with tenuous links to each other that have been placed in the same category.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in five adults infected with Covid will experience these symptoms.
Pictured: Sensitivity-weighted imaging revealed deposits of calcium, iron and deoxygenated blood in the brainstem and frontal lobe (red). Researchers say these parts of the organ are responsible for symptoms like fatigue, sleep disturbances and brain fog, and these deposits could be responsible for the long symptoms of Covid
What is the long Covid?
Long Covid is an informal term, used to describe ongoing symptoms following a Covid infection that last longer than four weeks, according to the ONS.
A dizzying array of symptoms have been attributed to the long Covid, including:
- extreme tiredness (tiredness)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- memory and concentration problems (“brain fog”)
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Heart palpitations
- have ants
- articular pain
- depression and anxiety
- tinnitus, earache
- nausea, diarrhoea, upset stomach, loss of appetite
- high temperature, cough, headache, sore throat, changes in smell or taste
There is no cure for the disease, although the NHS recommends a number of treatments designed to help relieve symptoms.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, collected data on 46 recovered Covid patents and 30 others who had never been infected.
Each received a sensitivity-weighted imaging MRI to assess their brain composition.
The analyzes were carried out within six months of infection for the group that had recovered from the virus.
These types of scans specialize in detecting levels of deoxygenated venous blood, hemorrhages in the brain, and levels of minerals like iron and calcium in the brain.
The results of these findings are called ‘sensitivity values’, which show the composition of the brain and where there might be bleeding in certain areas.
Thanks to this, it can detect many neurological conditions such as microhemorrhages, abnormal development of blood vessels, brain tumors and signs of stroke.
“Changes in brain region susceptibility values may indicate local compositional changes,” said Sapna Mishra, a doctoral candidate at the institute and the study’s principal investigator.
MRI results showed those who had recovered from Covid had significantly higher susceptibility values in the frontal lobe and brainstem compared to people with normal brain health.
This means they had increased levels of venous blood, iron and calcium in those parts of the brain.
Ms Mishra explained that “these regions of the brain are linked to fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches and cognitive problems”.
The cluster obtained in the frontal lobe mainly showed changes in white matter.
Sapna Mishra, a PhD student at the Indian Institute of Technology, said her team had discovered changes in brain regions linked to the symptoms people experienced months after their Covid infection.
White matter is found in the deepest tissues of the brain and is made up of millions of nerve fibers that connect parts of the brain and connect the brain to the spinal cord
Due to white matter changes, the brain has a harder time transferring information, leading to difficulties with memory, mobility and balance.
These clusters in the frontal lobe were made up of three elements.
They were made up of portions of the left orbital-inferior frontal gyrus, which is a key region for understanding and producing language and the right orbital-inferior frontal gyrus,
The latter is associated with functions such as attention, motor inhibition, imagery, social cognitive processes and speech and language processing,
White matter was the last component of these clusters.
As a result of these clusters, those who have recovered from Covid-19 may suffer difficulty thinking or concentrating, headaches and fatigue.
They also found significant differences in the right ventral diencephalon region of the brain.
This region is linked to many key bodily functions such as releasing hormones, sending sensory and motor signals to the outer surface of the brain.
These functions are responsible for processing thought, emotion, language, and memory, as well as the body’s daily sleep-wake cycle.
The researchers say this is the first study to focus on how the virus affects the actual makeup of the brain, and how it in turn causes long-lasting Covid symptoms.
“Our study highlights this new aspect of the neurological effects of Covid-19 and points to significant abnormalities in Covid survivors,” Ms Mishra said.
She added: “This study highlights serious long-term complications that can be caused by coronavirus, even months after the infection has cleared.
“The current results come from the small time window. However, longitudinal time points over a few years will elucidate whether there is a permanent change.
The researchers are currently conducting a study on the same cohort of patients to determine if these brain abnormalities persist over a longer period of time.
Long Covid has puzzled scientists and doctors since it first appeared on their radar in 2020.
Its causes have not been determined, but experts believe it may be linked to the body’s immune response to the virus.
There have also been known cases of people suffering long-term symptoms after suffering from more common viruses like the flu.
The CDC estimates that about 7.5% of American adults suffer from long Covid symptoms.
Those affected are usually under 50 and are more likely to be female. Long-term reports of Covid are most common in southern states like Kentucky and Alabama.