COVID Brain Fog Linked to Mood Disorders, Long COVID Risk

2 min read

May 8, 2023 – Having a history of anxiety or depression increases the likelihood of experiencing brain fog in the weeks following a COVID infection, a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles suggests.

The researchers also found that people who have brain fog during the first 4 weeks after infection were more likely to experience it as a long-term symptom as part of a long COVID diagnosis. They also were more likely to experience other physical long COVID symptoms.

The study, published last week in JAMA Network Open, included 766 people whose average age was 60 and who had a confirmed COVID infection between April 2020 and February 2021. Of the 766 people, 36% of them reported their thinking was affected within 4 weeks of the infection, and they were twice as likely to still report those problems 60 and 90 days later, compared to people who never experienced cognitive issues.

The researchers included reported cognitive problems like trouble being organized, trouble concentrating, and forgetfulness. Among people in the study:

  • 30% reported trouble getting things organized.
  • 29% reported trouble concentrating on activities like watching TV or reading a book. 
  • 26% reported having forgotten what they had talked about during a telephone conversation.

Women were more likely than men to report cognitive problems following COVID infection. Thinking difficulties were more likely in participants ages 40 to 59 years old, compared to younger participants. 

“This perception of cognitive deficits suggests that affective issues -- in this case anxiety and depression -- appear to carry over into the long COVID period,” said study author and UCLA professor Neil Wenger, MD, MPH, in a statement.

Affective disorder is a clinical term for a mood or psychiatric disorder.

“This is not to say that long COVID is all in one’s head, but that it is likely not a single condition and that for some proportion of patients there is likely a component of anxiety or depression that is exacerbated by the disease,” Wenger said.


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University of California, Los Angeles Health Sciences: “UCLA researchers find possible link between self-perceived cognition deficits and symptomatic long COVID.”

JAMA Network Open: “Perceived Cognitive Deficits in Patients With Symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 and Their Association With Post–COVID-19 Condition.”

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