Since the start of the pandemic, scientists have been attempting to learn as much as they can about COVID-19, ranging from how it spreads and why some people are more impacted than others to its many perplexing symptoms, what causes them, and why some people can’t seem to shake them. A new analysis from Scientific American takes a deep dive into how the nervous system is impacted by the virus, and the scary symptoms that some people are experiencing as a result. Read on to see if you’re at risk, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
Headaches are one of a group of four symptoms that “can last from weeks to months after infection,” writes SA.
Muscle and joint pain are another common symptom of the virus, likely due to COVID-related inflammation.
Fatigue is a common symptom of COVID as well as other infections. However, with coronavirus, some people are experiencing this type of extreme exhaustion for months after their initial infection. According to SA, fatigue can last “for months even after a mild case that does not spur the immune system to rage out of control.”
“Even after their main symptoms have abated, it is not uncommon for COVID-19 patients to experience memory loss, confusion and other mental fuzziness,” writes SA. However, they admit that “what underlies these experiences is still unclear.” One explanation could be that brain fog is a result of “the body-wide inflammation” associated with the virus. Similar to fatigue, they point out that brain fog has been reported following a minor infection in which the immune system doesn’t appear to “rage out of control,” lasting for months on end.
Anosmia, or loss of smell, “might also originate from changes that happen without nerves themselves getting infected,” SA writes. “Olfactory neurons, the cells that transmit odors to the brain, lack the primary docking site, or receptor, for SARS-CoV-2, and they do not seem to get infected. Researchers are still investigating how loss of smell might result from an interaction between the virus and another receptor on the olfactory neurons or from its contact with nonnerve cells that line the nose.”
In severe cases, COVID-19 can also lead to encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. This is a rare occurrence in those who have experienced infections.
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Some COVID-19 patients — even those with mild symptoms — have suffered a stroke. “The virus has undeniable neurological effects. But the way it actually affects nerve cells still remains a bit of a mystery,” admits SA. They mention new evidence that SARS-CoV-2 has the ability to get into nerve cells and the brain. “The question remains as to whether it does so routinely or only in the most severe cases. Once the immune system kicks into overdrive, the effects can be far-ranging, even leading immune cells to invade the brain, where they can wreak havoc.”
While some patients don’t completely lose their sense of taste, they report a loss of a particular sensation called chemethesis, “which leaves them unable to detect hot chilies or cool peppermints—perceptions conveyed by nociceptors, not taste cells,” they write. “While many of these effects are typical of viral infections, the prevalence and persistence of these pain-related symptoms—and their presence in even mild cases of COVID-19—suggest that sensory neurons might be affected beyond normal inflammatory responses to infection.” That would imply that the effects could be directly tied to the virus itself.
Chronic pain is another long-term symptom reported by some sufferers. SA uses the example of Rave Pretorius, a 49-year-old South African man who was left with several fractured vertebrae in his neck and extensive nerve damage after a 2011 car accident and has lived with “constant burning pain” in his legs that keep him up at night. However, when he contracted COVID-19 in July, his pain subsided for a little while. “I found it very strange: When I was sick with COVID, the pain was bearable. At some points, it felt like the pain was gone. I just couldn’t believe it,” he says. For the first time since his accident he could sleep at night. “I lived a better life when I was sick because the pain was gone.” However, once his coronavirus infection subsided, his neuropathic pain returned. If you experience any of the above, contact a medical professional immediately, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.