Diabetics & hypertension adds the risk of neuro issues in COVID-19 patients: Study

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 first attacks respiratory cells, later its effects will be seen in other human systems. A recent study has shown that some of the infected patients are at a higher risk of neurological problems like bleeding in the brain and stroke.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) reveals that life-threatening situations like bleeding in the brain or stroke were more common in COVID-19 patients with existing medical conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

“COVID-19’s effects extend far beyond the chest. While complications in the brain are rare, they are an increasingly reported and potentially devastating consequence of COVID-19 infection,” says the lead author of the study Dr. Colbey W. Freeman, chief resident in the Department of Radiology at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.

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To conduct the research, Dr. Freeman and colleagues in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania collected the data of COVID-19 patients who underwent head CT or MRI in their health system from January to April 2020.

Out of the 1,357 COVID-19 patients admitted in the system during the four months, 81 had undergone brain scan mainly due to mental state disorders and focal neurologic deficits such as speech and vision issues.

The researchers were able to find that out of those 81 patients, 18 were having critical conditions like, strokes, brain bleeds and blocked blood vessels. About half of the patients had an existing condition of high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes and three people with severe findings died while admitted.

“COVID-19 is associated with neurologic manifestations and hypertension and type 2 diabetes mellitus are common in individuals who develop these manifestations. These populations may be at higher risk for neurologic complications and should be monitored closely,” Dr. Freeman explained.

One of the shocking findings that the research made was nearly two-thirds of the patients with critical results in the study were African American and Dr. Freeman adds that these patients need to be closely observed.

Even though the exact factors for COVID-19’s harmful effect on the neurological system are not known, a popular theory related to it points to the inflammation related to the infection as the primary reason. And during the study, the researchers have found that people with critical conditions had shown high blood markers of inflammation.

“When your body is in an inflammatory state, it produces all these molecules called cytokines to help recruit the immune system to perform its function. Unfortunately, if cytokines are overproduced, the immune response starts doing damage,” Dr. Freeman added.

The ongoing study is examining the situations of neurologic complications in COVID-19 patients on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a pump system to circulate and restore oxygen in the blood as many patients needed ECMO during the hospitalization period.

Further, the researchers are planning to conduct a wide study on the delayed, long-term and chronic neurologic manifestations that may not be visible in the early stages of the virus infection in a person, Dr. Freeman added.