Patients are at an estimated 44 per cent greater risk of neurological and mental health diagnoses after COVID-19 than after flu, and a 16 per cent greater risk than with other respiratory tract infections, the largest study of its kind by the University of Oxford revealed on Wednesday.
Overall, the estimated incidence of being diagnosed with a neurological or mental health disorder following COVID-19 infection was 34 per cent, and for 13 per cent 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 per cent of patients), mood disorders (14 per cent), substance misuse disorders (7 per cent), and insomnia (5 per cent). The incidence of neurological outcomes was lower, including 0.6 per cent for brain haemorrhage, 2.1 per cent for ischaemic stroke, and 0.7 per cent for dementia.
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, said Professor Paul Harrison, lead author of the study, from the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University.
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, he said.
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).
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, Dr Max Taquet, a co-author of the study from Oxford University.
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, he said.
Their peer-reviewed paper, published in Lancet Psychiatry’, was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.
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