Coronavirus symptoms update: COVID-19 causes mental disturbance. Coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19, is known to affect the lungs and airways but this tells only half the story.
Research has found an acute mental disturbance surprisingly prevalent.
COVID-19 is a disease that spawned from SARS-COV-2 – a newly-discovered strain of coronavirus.
Since the virus was identified in December, there have been 15.7 million cases reported and 650,000 deaths worldwide.
Partly what makes the disease so deadly is that it doesn’t behave in predictable ways
It was widely believed COVID-19 mostly affects the lungs and airways.
But it’s now becoming clear that it can affect other parts of the body too, such as the brain.
This helps to explain why the range of symptoms extend beyond a new, continuous cough or high temperature – typical warning signs of respiratory infections.
Indeed, data from the COVID Symptom Study app, which has analysed data on more than four million participants, shows that patients with coronavirus frequently suffer from delirium – a state of acute confusion, and disorientation.
To investigate the symptom further, researchers from King’s College London spoke to the app’s consultant geriatrician, Dr. Claire Steves.
As Dr Steves explained: “Delirium is an acute confusional state that can come in any acute medical illness.
And it usually happens in people who have a susceptibility.
“For example, people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, more commonly get delirium.
But it also can happen when people have no background problems.”
Claire said that although it hasn’t been widely reported, people with coronavirus often develop delirium.
To investigate the prevalence of the symptom, Dr Steves and her team included a simple question in our COVID Symptom Study app:
“Do you have confusion, disorientation, or drowsiness?”
“We found that it is quite a common symptom, especially in frailer older people.
Delirium is more common in those that tested positive than those that tested negative for COVID-19,” said Dr Steves.
The app also revealed that if you have delirium, you are more likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19, and you are more likely to need respiratory support, she noted.
Other studies have also found that 20 percent of people admitted to hospital and 60 percent of patients in intensive care with COVID-19 suffered from confusion.
Why are people with COVID-19 suffering from delirium?
Dr Steves suspects that the SARS-COV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, may enter nerve cells in the brain, disrupting them and causing delirium symptoms.
This idea that coronavirus might attack nerve cells is supported by studies suggesting that loss of smell (anosmia) experienced by some people with COVID-19 is also caused by the virus entering olfactory nerve cells in the back of the nose.
Delirium has also been linked to hypoxia, which is when your body is not getting enough oxygen, which can be related to the lung damage and blood clots caused by the virus.
But clinicians have noticed that patients with coronavirus may not show any signs they are hypoxic.
What should I do if I recognise this symptom?
The NHS does not explicitly state what to do if you experience delirium, but it does say to call 999 for an ambulance if you or someone you care for become confused or very drowsy.
Other emergency indicators include if you:
Are struggling to breathe
Are coughing up blood
Have blue lips or a blue face
Feel cold and sweaty, with pale or blotchy skin
Have a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it
Collapse or faint
Have stopped urinating or are urinating much less than usual
If you have only mild symptoms, such as a new, continuous cough, you should stay at home and self-isolate, the health body advises.
This helps stop the virus spreading to other people
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