While the physical effects of COVID-19 may wear off for those unfortunate enough to contract the virus, more than a third of survivors are reporting long-term mental health concerns, according to a new study.
A study published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal on Tuesday, April 6 found that 34 percent of COVID-19 survivors received a diagnosis for a neurological or psychological condition within six months of their infection.
Anxiety was the most common diagnosis, with 17 percent of survivors treated for the disorders, followed by mood swings, which were reported in approximately 14 percent of patients, substance misuse (7 percent), and insomnia (5 percent).
Other diagnoses, such as stroke and dementia were reported, but less common. Among patients admitted to Intensive Care Units with COVID-19, 7 percent had a stroke within six months and 2 percent were diagnosed with dementia.
Of the patients studied, 13 percent said that it was their first recorded neurological or psychiatric diagnosis.
In total, 236,000 patients were studied in what researchers called the largest study to date on the connection between COVID-19 and brain health.
“These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after COVID-19 and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too," lead author Paul Harrison said in a statement Wednesday, April 7.
"While the latter are much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe COVID-19."
Researchers also compared the health records of COVID-19 patients to those who experienced other respiratory infections during the same time period.
That study determined that those who contracted COVID-19 had a 44 percent higher chance of neurological or psychiatric diagnoses compared to patients who were recovering from the flu, and 16 percent greater risk than those with respiratory tract infections.
“Our results indicate that brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after COVID-19 than after flu or other respiratory infections, even when patients are matched for other risk factors," co-author Max Taquet added.
"We now need to see what happens beyond six months,” he added. “The study cannot reveal the mechanisms involved, but does point to the need for urgent research to identify these, with a view to preventing or treating them.”
Harrison made note that while the long-term damage of brain or psychiatric disorders are of great concern, possibly of greater concern is stretch healthcare systems that are already stressed by COVID-19 even further. “Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and that many of these conditions are chronic," he said.
"As a result, health care systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need, both within primary and secondary care services."
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