While COVID-19 is commonly associated with respiratory illness, it has been shown to affect other parts of the body as well. In a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), three researchers attempted to explain the potential causes of various neuropsychiatric symptoms seen in those infected with the COVID-19 virus.
Olfactory and Neuropsychiatric Symptoms of COVID-19
It’s known that anosmia (a loss of sense of smell) is a commonly reported symptom in COVID-19 patients, letting researchers know there is a link between the brain’s olfactory processing system and COVID-19. Researchers have also noted a range of other neuropsychiatric symptoms including:
- Cognitive and attention deficits (brain fog)
- New-onset anxiety or depression
- Suicidal behaviors
These symptoms have been seen in patients before, during, and after COVID-19 caused respiratory symptoms. The researchers say that the symptoms above are not related to respiratory insufficiency. Rather, these brain and behavioral symptoms suggest that the COVID-19 virus independently damages the brain.
Patient follow-ups conducted in the UK and Germany found that COVID causes neuropsychiatric symptoms in 20% to 70% of patients. Due to the wide range found in the follow-ups, there is still uncertainty about the prevalence of neuropsychiatric symptoms. The symptoms appeared in young adults and older adults and lasted for months after the resolution of respiratory symptoms. Researchers say this evidence suggests that COVID-19 does impact the brain. Still, it’s important to understand that information on the impact of COVID-19 on the brain is preliminary.
How COVID-19 Affects the Body outside of Respiratory Symptoms
The COVID-19 virus enters the body through frequently occurring cellular docking ports called ACE2 receptors found in lung cells and arteries, as well as in the kidneys, intestines, and heart. Once in the body, the virus can damage endothelial cells that line blood vessels and arteries. When these cells are damaged, it can lead to inflammation, the formation of blood clots, and brain damage.
When inflammation occurs in the body, it can cause a variety of effects including:
- Decreased production of monoamines
- Decrease in trophic factors
Monoamines are proteins in the brain involved in neurotransmission and maintenance of neuronal growth. Inflammation may also lead to the activation of microglia. Microglia are immune cells unique to the brain and spinal cord that play a role in removing plaque-like build-ups in the central nervous system. These cells are responsible for removing damaged or unnecessary neurons and synaptic connections. Substantial reduction of microglia cells is associated with increased activity of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. The increase of activity may lead to excitotoxicity, which is caused by an overreaction of excitatory neurons and their receptors.
Additionally, researchers have noted that COVID-19 proteins have been found in the lining of blood vessels in the brain. There is still insufficient evidence to determine whether COVID-19 actually infects the brain. However, they have noticed that viral particles might leak through the blood-brain barrier, a membrane designed to protect the brain from viruses, toxins, and other harmful elements.
How COVID-19 Can Cause Brain Injuries
It’s speculated that the loss of sense of smell, nausea, and vomiting may be related to viral invasion of the brain and central nervous system vasculature. These symptoms suggest oxygen deficiency caused by the interruption of blood flow to the brain may lead to other short- and long-term neuropsychiatric symptoms. COVID-19 infiltrates the brain stem creating problems with the autonomic nervous system and potentially leading to anxiety issues in patients.
Researchers also noted that when the virus enters the endothelial cells of the brain, neutrophils and macrophages cells are also activated, thereby producing thrombins. This leads to the production of microthrombi (tiny clots) within blood vessels. Neuropsychiatric symptoms of COVID-19 may also cause micro-strokes and neuronal damage.
Furthermore, mechanisms in COVID-19 brain damage can resemble a traumatic brain injury, like those seen in football players. Inflammation and injury to blood vessels in the brain result in loss of neurons implicated in brain pathology, causing a rise in suicidal behaviors. In understanding the effects of COVID-related brain injury, researchers may gain further insight into traumatic brain injury research.
Consult with Our Skilled Traumatic Brain Injury Attorney
Attorney JG Winter, the founder of the Law Offices of JG Winter, represents California residents who have suffered a traumatic brain injury due to someone else’s negligent behavior. As a seasoned TBI attorney, JG Winter understands insurance companies’ tactics and knows how to build a strong claim for his clients. When you partner with the Law Offices of JG Winter, you benefit from a personal injury law firm that consistently manages claims and advocates for victims of traumatic brain injuries. To schedule a consultation, give us a call at (844) 734-2626 or complete our contact form.