Nearly a third of hospitalized covid-19 patients experienced some type of altered mental function, according to a study published Monday in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology — the biggest conducted so far focusing on neurological symptoms in coronavirus patients in the United States, the New York Times reported.
The study looked at records of the first 509 coronavirus patients from 10 hospitals in the Chicago area from March 5 to April 6 and found that those patients with altered mental function had worse medical outcomes: They stayed three times as long in the hospital and were nearly seven times as likely to die as those without the neurological problem.
Of the patients who left the hospital, only 32 percent of those who presented altered mental function — clinically described as “encephalopathy,” which can include confusion, delirium and unresponsiveness — were able to manage simple activities such as cooking, said Igor Koralnik, the senior author of the study. In contrast, 89 percent of patients without altered mental function were able to manage daily activities without help.
“Encephalopathy is a generic term meaning something’s wrong with the brain,” said Koralnik, chief of neuro-infectious disease and global neurology at Northwestern Medicine. The term can also include problems with attention, loss of short-term memory, disorientation, stupor or a coma-like level of consciousness.
But encephalopathy was not the only neurological complication the study found. Overall, 82 percent of patients presented neurological symptoms at some point during the course of the disease, including muscle pain, present in about 45 percent of patients, headaches in about 38 percent and dizziness in about 30 percent.