BENGALURU: Doctors in multiple hospitals are attempting to treat the mystery ‘brain fog’ experienced by some people who recover from Covid-19. Patients reported symptoms like short-term memory loss, trouble concentrating and focusing on tasks they normally do with ease, dizziness and confusion.
In some instances, patients also suffer from neurological symptoms such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), in which the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.
“We saw two male patients in their 40s, senior executives who were previously mentally active, suffering memory loss in late September, after they were discharged from hospital in August, post Covid recovery,” said Dr T R Hemkumar, consultant of internal medicine at Sakra World Hospital.
They were not able to read and write easily, focus on work, read newspapers, do puzzles or work as they did before. However, memory loss is not quantifiable on a cognitive scale, like mild, moderate or severe.
Doctors at Aster R V Hospital have seen Covid patients return one or two months after recovery with complaints of memory loss, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, excess sleepiness and GBS, which causes sudden weakness in the limbs, leading to inability to walk and stumbling while walking, which can last for weeks.
“For example, they get confused between day and night. They forget people’s names, what they ate that morning, forget to brush their teeth, etc. Most of these symptoms were observed in patients above 60 years, with comorbidities. One patient with Parkinson’s Disease who had no memory issues, developed memory loss after recovering from Covid,” said Dr Sreenkanta Swamy, head of neurology at Aster Hospital.
Doctors the world over have come across such cases but there isn’t enough research to pinpoint the causes.
One possibility is that it is caused by encephalopathy, a disease of the brain (caused by bacteria or virus) that alters its structure or function, said Dr Hemkumar. Another is encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) seen in high-risk patients admitted in the ICU, he said.
“Both encephalopathy and encephalitis could present in a mild form in patients when infected with Covid-19, and more significantly post recovery. Another possible cause could be hypoxia, (low oxygen levels), which can affect brain function,” he said.
Dr Swamy said that fatigue, weakness and confusion could also be caused by the prolonged use of steroids which are sometimes administered to Covid-19 patients.
“The hypothesis for possible causes is either the effect of such drugs or a result of the corona infection itself, neither of which have been proven scientifically yet,” Dr Swamy said.
Some studies suggest that Covid-19 affects the frontal lobe of the brain, which deals with data processing, attention and repetition.
At present doctors are treating symptoms, says Dr Sreekanta Swamy.
“We are hoping it works. We have to wait and watch,” he said.
Dr P R Krishnan, consultant neurologist at Fortis Hospital, who has treated three such patients, said, “We don’t know how long these symptoms will last, it’s new to all of us. There is no particular treatment, medication includes Vitamin C and zinc tablets,” he said.