By Dr. Paul Wright, Senior Vice President and System Chair of the Nuvance Health Neuroscience Institute
At Nuvance Health, we are seeing patients who are thankful because they recovered from COVID-19, but are worried because they still have neurological symptoms. Nationwide, some people who recovered from COVID-19 have reported neurological concerns such as dizziness, headache, lingering loss of taste or smell, muscle weakness, nerve damage and trouble thinking or concentrating — sometimes called “COVID fog” or “brain fog”.
There is still much to learn about COVID-19, including possible long-term complications. While early evidence shows that lasting neurological symptoms may improve over time, it is important for you to see a doctor to make sure another health problem is not causing your symptoms.
Here is what you can do if you or a loved one experiences lingering neurological concerns after COVID-19 infection.
What are neurological concerns after recovering from COVID-19?
Patients of all ages are reporting lingering neurological symptoms after COVID-19 infection. At Nuvance Health, most of the patients we are seeing with these symptoms are between the ages of 30 and 60. It is important to stress that only a small number of patients are experiencing these neurological after-effects — and although neurological symptoms are certainly possible they are not common.
In most cases, patients with neurological symptoms report brain fog or feeling as if they are not quite back to normal weeks or months after recovering from COVID-19. Other lingering symptoms are loss of taste or smell and headaches that affect their quality of life and ability to function.
Related article: Researchers study COVID-19-related loss of smell
The COVID-19 virus itself and symptoms of fever and chills can cause muscle aches that usually resolve within a few days or weeks after contracting the virus. However, neurological specialists are also seeing some patients who experience increasing muscle weakness after recovering from COVID-19.
What should I do if I have lingering neurological symptoms after recovering from COVID-19?
Early evidence shows that some symptoms, such as brain fog, may improve over time, and could be related to the virus itself. However, you could have another health condition that was previously undiagnosed or an autoimmune problem that COVID-19 infection triggered.
That is why it is important to have a medical exam. Schedule an appointment with a primary care clinician or neurologist if you or a loved one is experiencing lasting or unexplained neurological symptoms after recovering from COVID-19. They will take a thorough personal and family history and conduct an exam to make sure there is no other cause for your symptoms.
Related patient story: COVID-19 patient turns to Pulmonary Rehab for lungs
Mental health concerns
COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, from how we shop for food and access healthcare services to how we work and whether we send our kids to school. It is common for individuals to be afraid of the virus’s unknown effects, which can cause anxiety that may manifest itself in different ways, such as inability to sleep, sadness and feelings of dread.
It is important to be vigilant and protect yourself, your loved ones and your fellow community members from COVID-19 infection. Still, you also need to make sure you are eating healthy, exercising and taking care of your mental health by connecting with others and doing things you enjoy.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression — whether you are recovering from COVID-19 or not — you should seek help by reporting it to a healthcare clinician.
It may also help to remember that as we learn more about COVID-19, we are developing effective ways to prevent transmission and treat the virus, such as vaccines. We are also learning more about how the virus effects individuals differently in order to reduce the risk of complications. For example, even though some initial reports stated that strokes were common among younger patients with COVID-19, the stroke rate among younger patients across the country does not appear to be as high as originally thought.
The bottom line: Experts are still learning about the potential long-term health effects of COVID-19. An evaluation by a healthcare clinician is your next step toward recovery if you are experiencing neurological symptoms or mental health concerns because of COVID-19.