Life-threatening neurological complications are increasingly being reported in COVID-19 patients with hypertension and diabetes, according to a new study.
The impact of the coronavirus on the respiratory system has been closely studied, with lung inflammation putting some patients at risk of contracting pneumonia, but it can also affect other organs.
According to Dr Colbey Freeman, COVID-19‘s effects “extend far beyond the chest”, including bleeding in the brain and stroke – “an increasingly reported and potentially devastating consequence” of infection.
Dr Freeman, the chief resident at Penn Medicine’s department of radiology, and his team analysed the records of COVID-19 patients who underwent CT and or MRI scans between January and April of this year.
They found that of the 1,357 patients in total, 81 had brain scans performed due to altered mental states or other neurological defects, including speech and vision problems.
More than one in five of these patients had emergency or critical findings, including strokes, brain bleeds and blocked blood vessels. At least half of those patients had pre-existing histories of high blood pressure or type two diabetes.
“COVID-19 is associated with neurologic manifestations, and hypertension and type two diabetes mellitus are common in individuals who develop these manifestations,” Dr Freeman said.
“These populations may be at higher risk for neurologic complications and should be monitored closely,” he added.
Although it isn’t exactly known how COVID-19’s neurological effects work, one of the most popular theories posits that the inflammation associated with the infection is to blame – and blood markers of inflammation were high in patients with critical results.
“When your body is in an inflammatory state, it produces all these molecules called cytokines to help recruit the immune system to perform its function,” Dr Freeman said.
“Unfortunately, if cytokines are overproduced, the immune response actually starts doing damage.”
Two-thirds of the patients who had critical results were African American, the Radiological Society of North America said, suggesting that these patients may require closer monitoring.