If you have previously had COVID-19 and have overcome the virus but still feel like something is not quite right, Methodist Hospitals Neurologist Dr. William Conte wants you to know this: it is not all in your head.
“Don’t think you’re crazy, and that it’s all in your mind. These are real symptoms that you are having,” Conte said.
Medical professionals have discovered that some people who have previously had COVID-19 experience lingering neurological symptoms from COVID-19. The media has started to refer to people who experience these lingering symptoms a full month after they had COVID-19 as long-haulers.
Identifying whether these symptoms result from COVID-19 or an underlying disorder can be tricky. Some of the more commonly experienced lingering symptoms include fatigue and headaches while more rare symptoms can include brain injury and stroke.
“The reason why they could have a stroke is because COVID-19 can cause a hypercoagulable state, which thickens the blood,” Conte said. “A lot of the time, people are put on anti-coagulation when they have COVID-19, but then you can have a hemorrhagic stroke, which is a bleeding type of stroke, from the anti-coagulation. However, what I typically see is headaches and fatigue.”
Personally, Conte sees a case of one of the more minor lingering symptoms about once a week, but he has yet to see anyone suffer from one of the more severe symptoms.
“My colleagues have seen some of the more severe symptoms at the hospital,” Conte said. “The prevalence of acute neurologic dysfunction is between 3.5-36.4% based on different studies. If they have more neurological symptoms at the onset of the disease, they are more likely to have these lingering symptoms.”
Conte specializes in treating Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and said that while 30 of his MS patients have gotten COVID-19, only one has experienced lingering neurological symptoms. Even then, it can be hard to tell if the fatigue is being caused by COVID-19 or MS.
While medical professionals are still learning about the lingering neurological symptoms of COVID-19, they have discovered evidence that COVID-19 does, in fact, go to the brain.
“COVID-19 acts on the ACE2 Receptor, and that’s how it gets entry into the host cells,” Conte said. “It has an enzyme that allows it to do that. There’s evidence that ACE2 is expressed on many organs, including the brain.”
For the minor symptoms he has seen in his patients, Conte said that a combination of multi-disciplinary therapies can be used to treat symptoms including physical therapy and medication. These treatments can be used to make patients feel better as their bodies heal over time.
To learn more about Methodist Hospitals, visit https://www.methodisthospitals.org/.