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LOOK: Long Covid associated with extensive inflammation in the brain – new research

MRI scans. Picture: Anna Shvets Pexels

MRI scans. Picture: Anna Shvets Pexels

Published Jun 6, 2022


Results from a recent Dutch study found that patients with persistent symptoms of Covid-19, or “long Covid”, had extensive inflammation of the brain which persisted for months after the initial infection.

Researchers examined the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of two long Covid patients and found “severely elevated binding in all brain regions” in comparison to the healthy control subjects.

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The preprint study awaiting peer-review was published on medRxiv over the weekend by researchers mostly from the Amsterdam University Medical Centres.

It is estimated that around 30-50% of Covid-19 patients develop long Covid. The most frequently reported symptoms are fatigue, anosmia, dysgeusia and cognitive problems.

The symptoms have been known to persist in some for months after infection, even in patients with only relatively mild initial symptoms.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of two long Covid patients. Image: Amsterdam University Medical Centres

Researchers from the study said that while the results are far from definitive, they do show neuroinflammation in some patients of long Covid.

“Furthermore, as can be visually appreciated, we found high binding in the thalamus for both patients. The thalamus is considered an important regulator, in relation to fatigue and cognitive functioning, and may offer a clue towards the etiology of these symptoms in long Covid,” according to the study.

The study has its limitations, as only two patients with long Covid were analysed.

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The first patient was a healthy woman, in her late fifties. In December 2020 she developed a severe Covid-19 respiratory infection, however, she was not hospitalised and did not need treatment.

Since the infection, the woman reported that she suffered from severe fatigue, concentration deficits, anosmia and parosmia, headaches, and some visual complaints. Her symptoms prevented her from working.

The second patient was a healthy male in his mid-sixties. He was infected in March 2020 and was hospitalised for 15 days. Since the infection, he has suffered from severe fatigue and concentration deficits, and he was declared partially unfit for work.

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“Although these are preliminary findings and the exact relation between neuroinflammation, functional impairment and longer term structural brain changes is not yet established, taken together, these findings do raise the question whether treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs could be beneficial.”