Electronic health records were studied at multiple institutions in the U.K. Researchers estimated the incidence of neurological or psychiatric sequela in 236,000 people with COVID-19 infection. During the 6 month follow-up, 13% were diagnosed for the first time with either a neurological or psychiatric condition with no prior history of these conditions. Another 21% of patients who had prior conditions developed new conditions.
These rates were compared with rates in 342,000 people with influenza and other respiratory tract infections. The incidence of neurological and psychiatric diagnoses were significantly higher in COVID- 19 patients. The most common diagnoses were anxiety (17.4%), psychotic disorder (2.8%), ischemic stroke (2.1%), dementia (0.7%) and intracranial hemorrhage (0.6%).
The most concerning were those whose acute COVID-19 infection caused encephalopathy (defined as delirium or other altered mental states). In those with encephalopathy, the chances of developing mood disorder were 22%, anxiety disorder 22%, ischemic stroke 9%, psychosis 7% and dementia 5%.
This large study demonstrates that various psychiatric and neurological conditions develop with a relatively high incidence in 6 months following acute COVID-19 infection in people with or without previous disorders. We need to look for interventions to address these sequela for post COVID patients. It is not just about surviving this infection, but hoping that you don’t fall into the long-hauler conditions that are so debilitating. One site connecting people with these symptoms that provides support and resources is survivor corps.
It is unknown whether the post COVID mood and anxiety disorders are due to the psychological stress of the illness, or that they are triggered by neuro-inflammation caused by the infection. Regardless of whether it’s the “chicken or the egg”, these symptoms are real and thus far unpredictable as to how long they may last.
Reference: Taquet M et al. Six month neurological and psychiatric outcomes in 236379 survivors of COVID-19; A retrospective cohort study using electronic health records. Lancet Psychiatry 2021 April 8:416.