Higher risk of COVID-19 brain complications possible in some patients

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Diabetes and hypertension were linked to a rise in potentially life-threatening complications of COVID-19

There are some groups that are at higher risk of contracting the disease caused by the coronavirus, and new research shows that if some high-risk individuals get COVID-19, they also have a higher chance of developing brian complications.

Findings presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) show patients with hypertension and diabetes have a higher risk of developing brain complications from the disease.

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Although COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, researchers have found that some patients experience neurological complications like stroke and bleeding in the brain.

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

For the study, the team reviewed patients who had head CT and/or MRI at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Medicine from January to April 2020. More than 1,300 COVID-19 patients were admitted to the system in that period and 81 had a brain scan performed.

Altered mental state and issues such as speech and vision problems were among the most common reasons the brain scans were conducted.

A little more than one in five of the 81 patients who had brain scans showed emergency or critical results. They included strokes, blocked blood vessels and brain bleeds. Preexisting conditions of hypertension and/or Type 2 diabetes were found among at least half of the patients and three patients who had emergency or critical results died during hospitalization.

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

Freeman noted the study, in which two-thirds of the critical-result patients were Black, is ongoing. As more data comes in, researchers will publish results.

“In addition, we have plans to initiate a larger prospective study evaluating delayed, long-term, and chronic neurologic manifestations that may not be known in this early period in the pandemic,” Freeman said.