People with long-term Covid suffer physical alterations to their brains months after clearing the initial infection, a study has shown.
MRI scans of patients still with symptoms six months later show clusters in parts of the brain linked to fatigue, headaches and cognition.
The Indian researchers behind the study say it is the first to show that Covid causes physical changes in the brain.
Other studies have shown that the virus can also cause changes in other organs such as the heart and lungs.
Long Covid is not a specific condition with a definite diagnosis, but rather an amalgamation of different symptoms with tenuous links to each other that have been placed in the same category.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in five adults infected with Covid will suffer from Covid in varying degrees for a long time.
There is no proven treatment or cure, but experts study whether alcoholism drug has benefits after showing promise in small studies.
Pictured: A special MRI found deposits of calcium, iron and deoxygenated blood in the brainstem and frontal lobe of patients with long Covid six months after clearing the initial infection. Mineral deposits will be detected in the frontal lobe of the brain (red)
Researchers say these parts of the organ are responsible for symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances and brain fog, and these deposits could be responsible for the long symptoms of Covid. Scientists also found deposits in the brainstem (red)
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, collected data on 46 long Covid patents and 30 people who had never been infected with the virus.
Each received an MRI used to detect numerous neurological conditions such as micro-haemorrhages, abnormal development of blood vessels, brain tumors and signs of stroke.
The results showed that long Covid patients had clumps of blood, iron and calcium in areas of the frontal lobe and brainstem.
What is the long Covid?
Long Covid is an informal term, used to describe ongoing symptoms following a Covid infection that last longer than four weeks, according to the ONS.
A dizzying array of symptoms have been attributed to the long Covid, including:
- extreme tiredness (tiredness)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- memory and concentration problems (“brain fog”)
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Heart palpitations
- have ants
- articular pain
- depression and anxiety
- tinnitus, earache
- nausea, diarrhoea, upset stomach, loss of appetite
- high temperature, cough, headache, sore throat, changes in smell or taste
There is no cure for the disease, although the NHS recommends a number of treatments designed to help relieve symptoms.
Sapna Mishra, a PhD student at the Indian Institute of Technology, said her team had discovered changes in brain regions linked to the symptoms people experienced months after their Covid infection.
Sapna Mishra, a doctoral candidate at the institute and principal investigator of the study, said “these brain regions are linked to fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches and cognitive problems”.
The cluster obtained in the frontal lobe mainly showed changes in white matter.
White matter is found in the deepest tissues of the brain and is made up of millions of nerve fibers that connect parts of the brain and connect the brain to the spinal cord
Due to white matter changes, the brain has a harder time transferring information, leading to difficulties with memory, mobility and balance.
These clusters in the frontal lobe were made up of three elements.
They were made up of portions of the left orbital-inferior frontal gyrus, which is a key region for understanding and producing language, and the right orbital-inferior frontal gyrus.
The latter is associated with functions such as attention, motor inhibition, imagery, social cognitive processes and speech and language processing,
White matter was the last component of these clusters.
As a result of these clusters, those who have recovered from Covid-19 may suffer difficulty thinking or concentrating, headaches and fatigue.
They also found significant differences in the right ventral diencephalon region of the brain.
This region is linked to many key bodily functions such as releasing hormones, sending sensory and motor signals to the outer surface of the brain.
These functions are responsible for processing thought, emotion, language, and memory, as well as the body’s daily sleep-wake cycle.
The researchers say this is the first study to focus on how the virus affects the actual makeup of the brain, and how it in turn causes long-lasting Covid symptoms.
“Our study highlights this new aspect of the neurological effects of Covid-19 and points to significant abnormalities in Covid survivors,” Ms Mishra said.
She added: “This study highlights serious long-term complications that can be caused by coronavirus, even months after the infection has cleared.
“The current results come from the small time window. However, longitudinal time points over a few years will elucidate whether there is a permanent change.
The researchers are currently conducting a study on the same cohort of patients to determine if these brain abnormalities persist over a longer period of time.
Long Covid has puzzled scientists and doctors since it first appeared on their radar in 2020.
Its causes have not been determined, but experts believe it may be linked to the body’s immune response to the virus.
There have also been known cases of people suffering long-term symptoms after suffering from more common viruses like the flu.
The CDC estimates that about 7.5% of American adults suffer from long Covid symptoms.
Those affected are usually under 50 and are more likely to be female. Long-term reports of Covid are most common in southern states like Kentucky and Alabama.