What Does COVID-19 Do To The Brain?

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: December 7, 2020

From the loss of taste and smell to fever and difficulty breathing, we’ve heard about many of the common side effects of COVID-19. In addition to the common respiratory symptoms, thousands of survivors have reported suffering from cognitive symptoms, affecting their quality of life. Commonly known as the non-medical term “brain fog,” survivors describe it as fatigue, memory loss, confusion, dizziness, difficulty focusing, and inability to think of everyday words or even basic traffic rules.

COVID-19 survivors say brain fog impairs their ability to function normally, and many experience it for weeks and even months following the onset of infection. The lingering neurological effects can impact a range of COVID-19 patients – from those hospitalized to those who reported only mild symptoms.

So how common is COVID brain fog, and how long does it last? A study in the Journal of Infection looked at 120 patients who had COVID-19. Three months after discharge, roughly one in three reported memory loss as a lingering issue, and 28% reported problems with concentration. Another study, published by researchers at Indiana University, surveyed more than 1500 COVID-19 survivors who were experiencing symptoms months after the initial infection, so-called “long-haulers.” Concentration and memory impairment were some of the most common symptoms reported, lasting from weeks to months after infection.

What is causing post-COVID brain fog? While many studies are underway, researchers theorize that as part of the immune system’s response to SARS-CoV-2, a side effect is an explosion of immune system proteins called cytokines, which can inflict lasting structural damage to the brain. Other studies confirm COVID-19 can invade nerve cells and brain tissue, but researchers are still trying to determine if that happens to all patients or just the most severe infections.

This mental fuzziness doesn’t surprise doctors, who have seen similar side effects following other infections such as Lyme Disease, and Hepatitis C.

While everyone’s experience with a COVID-19 infection is different, and some may have lasting neurological effects, most people who have recovered from COVID-19 can resume their daily lives without difficulty. If you think you are experiencing lasting symptoms following a COVID-19 infection, contact your healthcare provider for continued healthcare.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.