Health & Wellbeing

Long COVID study indicates “something concerning is happening”

Long COVID study indicates “something concerning is happening”
The research affirms objective and measurable cognitive differences can be found between long COVID patients and those with no history of infection
The research affirms objective and measurable cognitive differences can be found between long COVID patients and those with no history of infection
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The research affirms objective and measurable cognitive differences can be found between long COVID patients and those with no history of infection
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The research affirms objective and measurable cognitive differences can be found between long COVID patients and those with no history of infection

Two new studies are reporting on an ongoing long COVID research project investigating the persistent effects of COVID-19 on cognition in the months after acute disease. The University of Cambridge-led research found many long COVID patients are experiencing significant and measurable memory or concentration impairments even after mild illness.

“Long COVID has received very little attention politically or medically,” said Lucy Cheke, senior author on the new studies. “It urgently needs to be taken more seriously, and cognitive issues are an important part of this. When politicians talk about ‘Living with COVID’ – that is, unmitigated infection, this is something they ignore.”

The new findings come from an ongoing project called The COVID and Cognition Study (COVCOG). The study recruited nearly 200 COVID-19 patients across late 2020/early 2021 and around the same amount of demographically matched uninfected controls. The goal was to “map the terrain” of cognition in post-acute COVID-19.

Around two-thirds of the COVID-19 cohort experienced symptoms of long COVID, defined as a symptom lasting longer than 12 weeks beyond initial date of diagnosis. Among those experiencing long COVID the new research found 78 percent had difficulty concentrating, 69 percent suffered brain fog, 68 percent reported forgetfulness and around 40 percent displayed a condition known as semantic disfluency (saying or typing the wrong word).

The study also found those subjects with long COVID experienced significant disruptions to their daily lives. More than half the long COVID cohort were unable to work for extended periods of time and one-third lost their job due to their illness.

When politicians talk about ‘Living with COVID’ – that is, unmitigated infection, this is something they ignore.

Perhaps most strikingly, the research found half the long COVID cohort reported problems getting doctors to take their persistent symptoms seriously. Muzaffer Kaser, a researcher working on the COVCOG project, says these findings affirm something real and measurable is happening to these patients.

“This is important evidence that when people say they’re having cognitive difficulties post-COVID, these are not necessarily the result of anxiety or depression,” said Kaser. “The effects are measurable – something concerning is happening. Memory difficulties can significantly affect people’s daily lives, including the ability to do their jobs properly.”

As with prior long COVID studies, the new findings indicate the severity of a patient’s initial infection can help predict the likelihood of long COVID symptoms. Few subjects in the study were so acutely ill they needed to be hospitalized, however, those reporting more severe acute disease were more likely to report persistent cognitive problems.

Plus, those with the broadest symptoms during their acute disease were most likely to experience lingering cognitive problems. In other words, those experiencing combinations of neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiopulmonary symptoms early on were at greater risk of cognitive problems several months down the line.

The new research concludes there are “objective cognitive differences” between those who have and haven’t been infected with COVID-19. But it is still unclear exactly what is specifically causing these persistent cognitive symptoms. The researchers hypothesize lingering systemic inflammation as a plausible causal mechanism but suggest more targeted research will need to investigate this proposal.

“Infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 can lead to inflammation in the body, and this inflammation can affect behavior and cognitive performance in ways we still don’t fully understand, but we think are related to an early excessive immune response,” added Kaser.

The COVCOG study is ongoing, but Kaser said these new findings should help both patients and doctors better understand and identify cases of long COVID. He also pointed to a number of long COVID clinics now opening up across the UK to help patients manage this new chronic condition.

“It’s important that people seek help if they’re concerned about any persistent symptoms after COVID infection,” said Kaser. “COVID can affect multiple systems and further assessment is available in long COVID clinics across the UK, following a GP referral.”

The two new studies were published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (1, 2).

Source: University of Cambridge

5 comments
5 comments
ChairmanLMAO
I was thinking earlier today how they are going to regret humans memories. They seem to be on top of that one.
Rusty Harris
The "gift" that keeps on giving. :(
Brian M
Nothing really new here - Its been known for years that virus infections have caused these types of symptoms in some people, Its gone under various names Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) also known as ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). A condition that is not always accepted or easy to diagnose, only now with more of a spotlight on COVID19 is the issue being seriously looked at (and rediscovered!).

CFS has been linked to the old medical students favorite the Epstein-Barr virus (responsible for glandular fever) but, looks as though other virus might also be responsible or more likely the bodies response to these viruses - inflammation etc.

Hopefully if a solution to long COVID is found then CFS/ME patients might well be helped.
Dennis McCraw
Thank you for this article. Being a COVID pneumonia survivor myself, the responses I have recieved from medical professionals after sharing my post COVID challenges have left me feeling as though I am not being taken seriously. I am very frustrated. I know something is different cognitively. My pre and post COVID cognative abilities are different.
EH
Brian M's comment is right on. For those suffering post-covid symptoms, search for information on chronic fatigue syndrome - that's where most of the info. is. It isn't at all encouraging, I have to warn. The most important thing to know is not to push, a "crash" or relapse will occur, often delayed by days, which will further reduce your limits and if severe, may well be long-lasting. Not only exercise but mental exertion, emotion (even positive emotion) and stress all make demands against your overall energy budget. Aerobic exercise or other over-exertion often causes a cycle of progressive decline. Medical professionals are generally miseducated about CFS, many see it as a synonym for malingering, so best don't bring it up under that name.