COVID-19 impacts brains of 1 in 3 patients months after infection, how to get help

Nation and World News

Danielle Murray’s long-term symptoms have included rashes and fevers.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Of the more than 236,000 survivors studied, about 34 percent had a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis six months after their initial infection.

About 13 percent of them had never had a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis. The study concluded that percentage is higher than patients who have had the flu or another respiratory infection.

Table shows the disorders patients felt 6 months after infection. Source: Lancet Psychiatry. Click image to enlarge.

Patients who had a more severe illness were more likely to feel long-term issues but those with more mild symptoms felt them as well.

The study looked at 14 diagnoses. Anxiety was the most common symptom with 17 percent of all patients reporting this. For those who had severe illness, 3 percent had brain hemorrhage, and 7 percent experienced a stroke.

COVID-19 patients were 44 times more likely to experience long-term brain and mental health impacts than those who have had the flu.

“The exhaustion was so bad or the migraines were so bad, and then it just wipes you out. Your recall and your memory is terrible,” said Danielle Murray.

Murray is one of these so-called COVID-19 long-haulers. She’s a teacher, mom and wife. Murray’s had fibromyalgia for the last 20 years but says this is different.

“I just push through that pain. There is no pushing through this pain and exhaustion,” said Murray.

She said she’s felt body aches, chills, extreme fatigue, and migraines. A rash has broken out on her face too.

The symptoms have lingered for five months after her initial infection.

“To have a career that I truly love and I felt like it was slipping away from my fingertips. I was scared,” said Murray.

She’s now a patient at UNC Health’s COVID-19 recovery clinic.

Dr. John Michael Baratta, assistant professor at UNC’s department of physical medicine and rehabilitation. He leads the COVID Recovery Clinic. The clinic has seen 100 patients living across North Carolina in the last two months.

“The combination of physical and mental health challenges, complicates recovery for a lot of COVID-19 survivors,” said Murray. “We don’t know why there is such an impact to mental health in regards to COVID.”

Danielle Murray’s long-term symptoms have included rashes, fevers and swelling.

While we still don’t know the “why,” there is help available and patients are getting better.

“We’re able to use established treatment methods for other types of illnesses or injuries to help patients recover,” Barrata.

Murray hopes she’ll be one of them.

“I’m not gonna let this stop me either. I told my husband “it might have knocked me down but it’s not going to knock me out’,” she said.

Getting help with lingering symptoms

Under the program, initial visits are typically done remotely to assess needs. Patients then come in to work with a doctor or specialists from a variety of fields if needed.

The program came together thanks to a collaborate effort between the UNC School of Medicine and a number of departments across the UNC Health system. The clinic takes patients from within and outside the UNC Health system. Patients need to be referred to the clinic by their primary care physician.

For Appointments at UNC

To make an appointment, call 984-974-9747

To make a referral through EPIC or UNC CareLink, follow these instructions:

Place an order (referral) for: “Ambulatory Referral to Center for Rehabilitation Care”
For the department choose: “UNC PHYSICAL MEDICINE FORDHAM BLVD CHAPEL HILL”
Department Specialty: “Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation”

Note: Please also include the phrase “COVID Recovery Clinic”

Click here for more information on the clinic.

For Appointments at WakeMed

The COVID-19 Recovery Program at WakeMed also requires a referral. Like UNC’s program, it combines strategies to address mental and physical well-being.

To make an appointment, call 919-350-8786.

Referrals can be entered in Epic or faxed to 919-350-8959

More long-hauler research

A recent study out of the University of Washington found 30 percent of patients studied said their health and quality of life was worse than before their infection.

Another 8 percent said they weren’t able to carry out daily chores like lifting heavy objects, or stand or walking unassisted for more than a short period of time.

Fatigue and loss of sense of smell or taste were the most reported symptoms in post-COVID-19 patients.

Source: Sequelae in Adults at 6 Months After COVID-19 Infection study

Broken down by age long-haulers were:

  • 18- to 36-year-olds: 27 percent
  • 37- to 64-year-olds: 30 percent
  • 65 and older: 45 percent

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