By Lisa Marinelli Smith
While many diseases target a specific organ or system in the body, the scope of COVID-19 is troubling, potentially affecting the heart, lungs, kidneys, digestive tract and nervous system.
That’s what makes the virus, which first came to light in December 2019, even more challenging to treat and understand.
COVID’s respiratory impact is well-known, causing shortness of breath, cough and fever. The most severe cases may require intubation and ventilation to assist the patient with breathing.
To grasp how the coronavirus impacts the nervous system and brain, doctors are turning to EEGs, or electroencephalograms, for insights. EEGs are a non-invasive procedure in which electrodes attached to the scalp transmit information about the brain’s electrical activity.
COVID-19 and the nervous system
COVID-19 has been linked to several neurological conditions, most often in those with severe cases of the virus. Most data is based on small studies as researchers continue to gather information about the disease.
Some documented neurological side effects:
- Loss of smell
- Muscle aches, pain
- Taste disorders
Changes in a patient’s mental state – slow reaction to stimuli, seizures, speech problems and an inability to wake up after sedation – is the main reason doctors would order an EEG for a coronavirus patient, according to researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh, who published Seizure: European Journal of Epilepsy in October 2020.
The researchers gathered information from more than 80 studies and 617 coronavirus patients. They analyzed EEG reports to learn how COVID-19 affects the brain.
Overall, about one-third of COVID patients who had EEGs showed abnormal neuroimaging in the brain’s frontal lobe, according to the research by Arun Raj Antony, MD, chief of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Zulfi Haneef, MD, assistant professor of neurology/neurophysiology at Baylor.
Because the nose is the most likely entry point for the coronavirus, researchers weren’t
Seizures and the coronavirus
Sometimes patients who are critically ill experience seizures due to stress, trauma or the particular illness they are battling. However, doctors studying seizures in COVID-19 patients believe there’s a link between the virus and seizures beyond that.
In a small study of 22 COVID positive patients at a hospital in the Bronx, seizure-like behaviors prompted EEG studies in more than two-thirds of the patients. Most of these patients were severely sick, intubated and under sedative or antiseizure medication.
Notable in this study – a significant proportion of these patients had no prior history of epilepsy.. Of the six patients who tested negative for COVID, only two had a clinical seizure-like event.
More EEG testing needed
Overall, doctors who’ve studied neurological changes in coronavirus patients recommend more EEG testing to understand the disease better and the effects it has on the brain. EEGs, coupled with MRI or CT scans, can provide even more comprehensive data.
The virus acting directly on the brain may not be the only factor causing abnormal EEG readings, said Dr. Haneef of Baylor. Lack of oxygen, heart problems or other side effects may also come into play, he says.
While COVID-19 patients receive EEGs in the hospital, for non-COVID patients, NeuLine Health offers at-home, ambulatory EEGs to study the brain to evaluate various conditions, including seizures, dementia, headaches and dizziness.
For more information about NeuLine EEGs, call (844) 212-5321 or visit our website.