Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

One in three COVID-19 survivors received a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis within six months of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, an observational study of more than 230,000 patient health records published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal estimates.

Street scene featuring blurred people and lighting

The study looked at 14 neurological and mental health disorders.

Professor Paul Harrison, lead author of the study, from the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, said: “These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after COVID-19, and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too. While the latter are much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe COVID-19.

“Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and that many of these conditions are chronic. As a result, health care systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need, both within primary and secondary care services.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been growing concern that survivors might be at increased risk of neurological disorders. A previous observational study by the same research group reported that COVID-19 survivors are at increased risk of mood and anxiety disorders in the first three months after infection. However, until now, there have been no large-scale data examining the risks of neurological as well as psychiatric diagnoses in the six months after COVID-19 infection.

This latest study analysed data from the electronic health records of 236,379 COVID-19 patients from the US-based TriNetX network, which includes more than 81 million people. This group was compared with 105,579 patients diagnosed with influenza and 236,038 patients diagnosed with any respiratory tract infection (including influenza).

Overall, the estimated incidence of being diagnosed with a neurological or mental health disorder following COVID-19 infection was 34%. For 13% of these people it was their first recorded neurological or psychiatric diagnosis.

The most common diagnoses after COVID-19 were anxiety disorders (occurring in 17% of patients), mood disorders (14%), substance misuse disorders (7%), and insomnia (5%). The incidence of neurological outcomes was lower, including 0.6% for brain haemorrhage, 2.1% for ischaemic stroke, and 0.7% for dementia.

After taking into account underlying health characteristics, such as age, sex, ethnicity and existing health conditions, there was overall a 44% greater risk of neurological and mental health diagnoses after COVID-19 than after flu, and a 16% greater risk after COVID-19 than with respiratory tract infections.

Dr Max Taquet, a co-author of the study from Oxford University, said: “Our results indicate that brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after COVID-19 than after flu or other respiratory infections, even when patients are matched for other risk factors. We now need to see what happens beyond six months. The study cannot reveal the mechanisms involved, but does point to the need for urgent research to identify these, with a view to preventing or treating them.”

Read the full paper in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.

NIHR OXFORD HEALTH BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH CENTRE NEWS

Please follow the link below to read the news on the NIHR BRC website.

Similar stories

How Mindfulness May Improve Body Satisfaction and Mood

New research from Emma Osborne, Research Assistant at the Centre for Research on Eating Disorders (CREDO) at the University of Oxford (and PhD Candidate at the University of Bath), and Dr Melissa Atkinson, University of Bath, investigated two ways in which mindfulness might improve body satisfaction and mood.

Review Highlights Risk Factors Associated with Violence in Schizophrenia

Researchers at Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry have found that people with schizophrenia and related disorders are at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating violence, but that the overall risk remains low (less than 1 in 20 in women, and less than 1 in 4 for men over a 35-year period for violent arrests and crimes).

New Study will Investigate Brain Fog Symptoms in Post-Hospitalised COVID-19 Patients

C-Fog is a collaborative new study led by Oxford University researcher, Dr Maxime Taquet, which will investigate the reasons why brain fog or cognition problems affect patients after COVID-19 infection. With a better understanding of the mechanisms involved it may be possible to understand how to treat brain fog and help many thousands of people worldwide.

A New Experimental Study Investigated the Effects of Atorvastatin on Emotional Processing

Atorvastatin is one of a group of statins widely used to treat heart and blood vessel diseases. The medication works by lowering cholesterol in the blood. This new study shows that atorvastatin influences the way people experience certain emotions, giving us important insights about disorders such as anxiety and depression.

People with Long-COVID After Hospitalisation Face Limited Recovery After One Year

People who were hospitalised with COVID-19 and continued to experience symptoms five months later, show limited further recovery one year after hospital discharge, according to the latest results of a major national study looking at the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 on hospitalised patients.

The Effects of Social Media on Public Attention and Attitudes Towards COVID-19 Vaccines in the UK

A new study finds that media coverage of positive vaccine research can have a positive effect on overall social media sentiment, countering vaccine misinformation, but the effects wane over time.