9 New Coronavirus Symptoms Discovered, Warn Doctors

You know the common symptoms of coronavirus by now—dry cough, fever, shortness of breath included. However, a new study published this week by Northwestern Medicine in Annals of Neurology claims that some people are experiencing other neurological symptoms well before the more common respiratory ones appear—a result of nervous system damage COVID-19 is wreaking on the body and mind. Read on to discover what nervous system symptoms to watch for.

woman sitting on couch in living room at home with closed eyes, holding head with hand, suffering from strong sudden headache or migraine, throbbing pain

“A wide variety of neurologic syndromes and symptoms have been reported in patients with COVID-19 since very early in the pandemic, including most commonly alterations in mental status, headaches, loss of smell and taste, and stroke,” Serena Spudich, MD, a Yale Medicine neurologist and Division Chief of Neurological Infections & Global Neurology at Yale School of Medicine, tells Eat This, Not That! Health. “The characteristics of these and other more rare neurological manifestations suggest a range of causes that may differ by symptoms and even between patients.” Spudich and her colleagues recently published a review in JAMA Neurology detailing the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on the central nervous system and the reported neurological complications.

Doctor attentively examines the MRI scan of the patient.

As Dr. Spudich and her colleagues outline in their comprehensive review article, COVID-19 can directly infect neurons and cause changes in smell, the body’s immune response may cause inflammation in the brain and cause confusion or headache, or effects in other organs including the blood vessel system may predispose to stroke. “Rare people develop neurological symptoms in the later stages of COVID-19 when their nerve or muscle cells become the target of their own misdirected immune reaction,” she adds. 

man in white casual t-shirt, holding head with both hands, suffering from severe headache

Dr. Spudich explains that headaches are frequent symptoms in patients with COVID-19. “They are sometimes part of the overall illness accompanying fever and respiratory problems, and sometimes manifesting as the primary COVID-19 symptom as prolonged or severe headaches in patients with usually well-controlled migraines,” she says. Some patients have described these headaches as “throbbing.”

Vertigo illness concept. Man hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness,a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway.

Dizziness is another more common neurological symptom of the virus. “Some patients, particularly elderly patients, develop difficulty with balance and even fall when they develop fever or illness that involves the lungs and the rest of the body,” she points out. In fact, Dr. Spudich reveals that falls at home can even be an initial presentation of the virus, “which seems to be related to generalized illness rather than to specific involvement of the balance organs of the brain.”

woman sit on couch hold laptop look in distance thinking distracted from online work

Many people with moderate to severe COVID-19 complain of difficulty with concentration and severe fatigue, says Dr. Spudich. “For some individuals, this is so severe that they develop sleepiness and confusion, or even have a prolonged ‘waking up’ period after receiving sedating medications in the hospital,” she says. For the majority of patients, this resolves after they recover from the acute illness, “though detailed research has not been conducted to understand whether there are any long term effects.”

girl with a spoon near a mouth

Loss or reduction in sense of smell and also taste have been described by patients with COVID-19 worldwide. “The causes of this are uncertain, but may relate to viral infection or inflammation of the nerves and regions of the brain related to smell,” Dr. Spudich explains. Luckily, the majority of patients regain their sense of smell and taste after many weeks—however some patients still have not recovered these senses after months.

Teenager trying to get back on her feet while receiving support from an elder

“We have seen seizures as the first manifestation of people who turn out to have COVID-19, but most of these have been in patients who have had previous seizures and either have missed some medications due to illness, or may have an increase in their seizure frequency due to having a generalized illness, which also happens with other conditions besides COVID-19,” explains Dr. Spudich. However, in some rare cases, seizures have been reported in patients with COVID-19 without any other clear reason. “More research is needed to understand how the virus or inflammation related to COVID-19 might lead to seizure,” she maintains. 

CT scan of the brain of a patient with intracranial hemorrhage

Strokes are a serious complication seen in patients with COVID-19 that may have long-lasting effects, such as sudden weakness of one part of the body or loss of speech. While most strokes are seen in COVID-19 patients who already are at risk for strokes, including elderly patients with certain heart conditions or high blood pressure, according to Dr. Spudich, there have also been cases reported of strokes in younger patients with no clear risks for stroke. “A variety of factors in patients with COVID-19 may predispose to stroke including blood clotting abnormalities, inflammation of the blood vessels, and, in the most severely ill patients, changes in oxygen levels and blood circulation,” she explains. 

unrecognized young asian woman had pain at calves sitting on couch at home

Effects of COVID-19 outside the brain range from aching and pain in muscles to severe weakness of the arms and legs. “These may be due to direct effects on the muscles, leading to achiness, weakness, and increases of levels of muscle breakdown proteins in the blood,” says Dr. Spudich. However, in other cases, “weakness or burning, or loss of feeling on the surface of the body occurs due to abnormalities of the nerves that carry information from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles and skin,” she adds. “Disorders of the muscles and nerves in COVID-19 patients are most likely due to an immune system gone awry, directing its powers at the body’s own cells in an attempt to respond to the virus.”

Basic protective measures against new coronavirus. Wash hands, use medical mask and gloves. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Maintain social distancing. Wash your hands frequently

Follow the CDC’s advice to stop the transmission of COVID-19: wash your hands regularly; wear a face covering, which has been shown to be truly effective; practice social distancing and stay six feet away from others; get tested if you experience coronavirus symptoms; and to stay safe in your city, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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