There are many things experts don’t know about COVID. One of them is why the virus causes symptoms related to the brain. “Despite being over a year and a half into the pandemic, we have a very fundamental understanding of the neurological symptoms of COVID,” says William Kimbrough, MD, a primary care physician at One Medical. “We’re still learning about how common, how serious, and how long these neurological symptoms can last after COVID, as well as what treatments may help reduce the severity or duration.”
Researchers are trying to determine if the virus attacks the brain directly, reduces blood flow to the brain, causes damaging inflammation, spurs an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks its own cells—or perhaps all four.
What is clear is that neurological symptoms are not rare with COVID and can be debilitating. These are some of the most common signs that COVID may be affecting your brain. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
Fatigue is probably the most common symptom associated with COVID-19, both active illness and recovery. Feeling fatigued is typical with many viral illnesses; as the immune system produces inflammation to fight off the virus, you might feel extreme tiredness or weakness.
Difficulty concentrating or focusing, also known as “brain fog,” is a common COVID-related symptom. Some people report not being able to focus on work or simple tasks, or have difficulties with short-term memory or word-finding.
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“In terms of common symptoms early in an infection, the most common symptom people notice is finding food to be surprisingly flavorless,” says Kimbrough. The coronavirus seems to attack “support cells” in the back of the nose which help the olfactory system do its job. This can lead to a loss of smell, and because they’re closely linked, loss of ability to taste. The good news is that experts say the loss is unlikely to be permanent.
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“With the emergence of the Delta variant, we’re seeing less of the loss of taste and smell, but more headaches,” says Kimbrough. In fact, researchers with the COVID Symptom Study report that headaches are now the most common symptom associated with new coronavirus cases. Researchers aren’t sure why that is.
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COVID-19 might cause mood changes, such as anxiety or depression. A study published in The Lancet reviewed medical data of 69 million people and found that COVID-19 increased the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder, dementia, or insomnia. Additionally, people with psychiatric disorders were 65% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, which may be related to behavioral or lifestyle factors.
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“In the most severe cases, COVID can lead to strokes or parts of the brain being damaged due to lack of oxygen,” says Kimbrough.
Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don’t travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.