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One in three patients suffers from subsequent psychological or neurological problems

In an intensive care unit in Paris, April 6, 2021. – ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP

One in three people who have overcome Covid-19 have been diagnosed with neurological or psychiatric disorders within six months of infection, according to the largest study to date on the mental toll of former Covid patients. Anxiety (17%) and mood disorders (14%) were the most common diagnoses, according to the study, published Wednesday in the specialized journal The Lancet Psychiatry. The incidence of neurological damage such as cerebral hemorrhage (0.6%), stroke (2.1%) and dementia (0.7%) was overall lower, but the risk was generally higher among patients who had been seriously ill.

While the risk at the individual level of most of these neurological and psychiatric disorders is low, the effect may be “considerable” for health systems due to the scale of the pandemic, notes Professor Paul Harrison (University of Oxford, UK), lead author of the study. Especially since many of these disorders are “chronic”, he argues, pleading to provide health systems with resources “to meet the needs”. Analyzing the electronic health records of 236,379 patients with Covid, the authors note that 34% were diagnosed with neurological or psychiatric illness within six months of infection.

Neurological disorders for 46% of people undergoing intensive care

For 13% of these people, it was their first neurological or psychiatric diagnosis. The risk of developing long-term disorders is increased in patients hospitalized with severe Covid-19. Thus, 46% of patients admitted to intensive care were diagnosed with neurological or psychiatric disorders six months after infection. Almost 7% of patients who had been in intensive care had a subsequent stroke, 2.7% had a cerebral hemorrhage and almost 2% developed dementia, compared with 1.3%, 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively. of those not hospitalized.

The researchers also looked at data from more than 100,000 patients diagnosed with influenza and more than 236,000 patients diagnosed with respiratory infections. The risk of neurological or psychiatric diagnoses was overall 44% higher after the Covid than after the flu, and 16% higher than after a respiratory tract infection.

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“Unfortunately, many of the disorders identified in this study tend to be chronic or recurring, so we can anticipate that the impact of Covid-19 could last for many years,” writes Dr Jonathan Rogers of the University of London (UCL) in a commentary published in the newspaper. The people studied were probably more seriously affected than in the general population, however, note the authors by referring to those, many, who do not go to consult for mild or non-existent symptoms.

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