Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have found that patients with clinically diagnosed neurological symptoms linked to COVID-19 are six times more likely to die in hospital than those without neurological complications.
For the study, the researchers analyzed 3744 patients who were either clinically diagnosed with, or laboratory-confirmed to have, COVID-19. The patients came from three cohorts across 28 centers in 13 countries and four continents, and had an average age of between 59.9 and 67 years.
Among the patients, the researchers found that 82% had either self-reported or clinical confirmation of neurological symptoms. The most common self-reported symptoms included headache (37%) and anosmia (loss of sense of smell) or ageusia, the loss of sense of taste (26%).
Meanwhile, the most common clinically observed neurological signs or syndromes included acute encephalopathy (49%), coma (16%) and stroke (6%). They added that having neurological symptoms stemming from infection by COVID-19, even those seemingly less harmful such as loss of smell, is linked to a six-fold increase of dying in hospital.
“Acute encephalopathy is by far the most common symptom that we see in the clinic,” says Sherry Chou, lead author of the study. “Those patients may be in an altered sensory state or have impaired consciousness, or they don’t feel like themselves and act confused, delirious or agitated.”
The researchers also found that preexisting neurological conditions of any kind, chronic migraines and dementia, double one’s risk of developing COVID-19-related neurological complications.
"The study illustrates that any neurological symptom in a hospitalized COVID-19 patient is a marker for severity. Even something as innocuous as loss of taste or smell in a hospitalized patient was associated with an increased rate of death," says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in Baltimore.
"The study underscores they need to be very vigilant with the development of neurological symptoms in hospitalized COVID patients."