Sept. 23, 2022 -- People who had COVID-19 have a higher chance of developing brain problems such as strokes, migraine headaches, and depression for a year after being infected compared to people who weren’t infected, a study published in Nature Medicinesays.

The neurological conditions occurred in 7% more people who had COVID compared with uninfected people, the study says. That comes to about 6.6 million people in the United States who’ve had brain problems because of the virus, according to a news release on the study from the Washington University School of Medicine.

“The results show the devastating long-term effects of COVID-19. These are part and parcel of long COVID. The virus is not always as benign as some people think it is,” senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University, said in the release.

Researchers examined health records for 154,000 U.S. veterans who tested positive for COVID from March 1, 2020, to Jan. 15, 2021. That information was compared to health records for 5.6 million people who didn’t have COVID during that period and 5.8 million people before COVID arrived in the U.S.

Al-Aly said the team looked at 44 brain disorders, including “brain fog” and anxiety, among non-hospitalized and hospitalized patients. He noted that most previous studies about long COVID focused on hospitalized patients alone.

“We’re seeing brain problems in previously healthy individuals and those who have had mild infections,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, female or male, or what your race is. It doesn’t matter if you smoked or not, or if you had other unhealthy habits or conditions.”

Few people in the study were vaccinated against COVID because vaccines were not introduced into the U.S. until December 2020. The news release said a previous study led by Al-Aly found that COVID vaccines reduce the risk of long-term brain problems by about 20%

Show Sources

Nature Medicine: "Long-term neurologic outcomes of COVID-19."

University of Washington School of Medicine. “COVID-19 infections increase risk of long-term brain problems.”

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