Are Neurological Symptoms Hanging on After you recovered from Covid?
Are Neurological Symptoms Hanging on After you have recovered from Covid?
Even though new COVID-19 cases are dropping, we’re just beginning to understand the long-lasting cognitive effects of this virus. There are a surprising number of people reporting “long-COVID” symptoms—with brain fog being one of the most common. In a September 2021 study of 273,618 people who recovered from COVID, 37% of them reported brain fog symptoms 3-6 months after diagnosis.
While there is still a lot of research being done to better understand why COVID impacts the brain, there is a lot the medical community has learned and treatments that are beginning to give hope to people impacted by these symptoms.
What is brain fog?
Brain fog is a term used to describe cognitive symptoms that impact your ability to think and process information. Common symptoms include:
- Sluggish thinking
- Hard time remembering events
- Difficulty finding words
- Easily distracted
- Feeling fatigued
- Hard time remembering sequences and keeping things in order
- Difficulty focusing and completing tasks
- Feeling overwhelmed
Everyone has felt some version of brain fog in their life. If you’ve ever had a poor night’s sleep, you’ve likely experienced brain fog as fatigue. Or if you’ve experienced a season of unusual stress, you may have experienced brain fog symptoms such as being distracted or forgetful.
And we now know that it is common for people recovering from COVID-19 to experience these same tell-tale symptoms—even if they had a relatively uncomplicated COVID case.
What is cognition?
Cognition is the term that describes the processes we use to engage in intellectual activity such as reading, thinking, debating, learning, and all forms of critical thinking. It’s how we process information and recall memories—and all of these cognitive activities are done by the brain.
So, when we experience brain fog symptoms, it’s really a little alarm bell telling us that our cognitive processing is out of whack and something is wrong. People reporting brain fog from COVID-19 may experience a wide range of cognitive dysfunction.
What is long-COVID brain fog?
While most people contracting COVID-19 recover fully within a week or two, the term “long-COVID” (sometimes called “post-COVID”) refers to symptoms and health issues that linger four or more weeks after a COVID-19 diagnosis. And “long-COVID brain fog” specifically describes anyone who retains brain fog symptoms specifically for four or more weeks.
How does COVID-19 cause brain fog?
While we’re still learning about the connection between COVID-19 and the brain, there was a small study that came out recently from the University of California San Francisco that sheds some new light on this topic—and suggests that COVID may be impacting cognitive function by causing irregular inflammation in the body.
The study out of California found that 10 out of 13 participants with cognitive symptoms after COVID had abnormalities in their cerebral spinal fluid. This included an excess in the amount of proteins (which is similar to other infections and suggests inflammation) as well as a lot of abnormal antibodies that suggest additional inflammatory responses. All four of the samples from patients with no long-COVID cognitive symptoms were normal and did not show abnormalities.
And why is this important? Well, we know infections can stimulate autoimmunity (which is when your immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake resulting in inflammation in the targeted area/s). And this study suggests that COVID may be doing that in the cerebral spinal fluid.
A normal, healthy inflammation response is a very good and very important process because it protects you from infection from harmful intruders like bacteria and viruses. But if your immune system is run down, it can go into hyperdrive—aka autoimmunity—and start attacking actually healthy cells. And COVID seems to be tipping the scales for many people and causing inflammation in areas of the body that are responsible for cognitive function. This results in brain fog.
There is definitely still a lot we don’t know and new research continues to come out on this topic. But what we do know is that COVID causes an inflammatory response, and in many cases that appears to be impacting the brain.
How common is long-COVID brain fog?
The research is still coming out on long-COVID symptoms, including brain fog, so it’s difficult to know. That said, individuals who already had an irregular inflammatory reaction pre-COVID, may have a more difficult time fighting off their brain fog.
What causes long-COVID brain fog?
There are several factors increasing the risk of long-COVID brain fog. In a November 2021 study there were three specific risk factors called out:
- Sex—females were found to be more likely to have long-COVID brain fog.
- Early respiratory symptoms—individuals with respiratory symptoms at the onset of their COVID-19 diagnosis were more likely to develop long-COVID brain fog.
- Severity of illness—individuals with more severe COVID cases were more likely to have lingering cognitive issues.
It’s important to note that the risk of an individual developing a severe COVID illness as well as respiratory symptoms are both significantly increased by the presence of one or more pre-existing comorbidities. This includes comorbidities such as: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, hypertension, dementia, and more.
This makes sense because it shows that individuals who already had inflammation potential, had long-COVID issues more often than individuals without pre-existing inflammation issues.
What are other neurological symptoms of long-COVID?
While brain fog is one of the most common neurological symptoms, other reported symptoms include:
- Loss of taste and smell
- Depression, and more.
How long does Covid brain fog last?
There is no set length of time to recover for individuals who experience brain fog as a symptom of COVID. Brain fog length and severity vary from person to person with some recovering in a few days, while others struggle for months. Because COVID is relatively new and we’re still learning, symptoms may last even longer for some people.
When to see a doctor for COVID brain fog?
Brain fog is an alarm letting you know that something is wrong in your body. If you experience symptoms of brain fog resulting from COVID-19 for more than a couple of weeks, reach out to your health care team to discuss treatment. The earlier you jump on this symptom and start supporting your body’s return to health, the better.
How does F8 Well Centers treat long-COVID brain fog?
At F8 Well Centers, we’re always looking at the symptoms as clues from your body that something is off. Our ultimate goal is to work with you to get to the root issue—and for many people experiencing brain fog from COVID it’s an inflammatory response. There are a couple treatments we use for people looking to recover from brain fog symptoms:
- Immune system support—first, we want to take a step back and look at the inflammatory process and how we can get that under control. We’ll help you with stabilizing your blood sugar, addressing leaky gut, the adrenals, and removing food allergies. The goal is to support your body’s immune system and get as stabilized as possible. This will help lower your inflammatory response and reduce inflammation that may be causing brain fog.
- Brain mapping—additionally, if you’re near one of our hospitals, we’ll also do a brain mapping procedure. A brain map is a very useful tool that looks at the electrical activity going on in the brain. It allows us to see if certain pathways are depleted or revved up. If there is irregularity in the activity, we can start retraining the brain by using neurofeedback to calm down or speed up different pathways. This has been a very useful tool for individuals experiencing brain fog.
Schedule an appointment
If you need support, we’d love to work with you to create a plan to kick your brain fog to the curb and return to your best mental self! Click here to book an appointment with our team.