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The Rising Evidence of Neurological Symptoms Due to COVID-19

In the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and doctors struggled to keep their efforts even when focused solely on the respiratory and circulatory system damage in infected patients. However, the evidence for the accumulation of a variety of neurological effects was present. There has been recent evidence that SARS-CoV-2 has certain neurological symptoms arising in COVID-19 infected patients. The studies conducted showed consistent signs of severe, long-lasting neurological concerns that targeted patients experiencing even the mildest of symptoms, experiencing a variety of symptoms including nerve damage, strokes, delirium, as well as inflammation. 

Consultant neurologist Dr. Arvind Chandratheva was talking to one of his patients,  64-year-old Paul Mylrea, who recently had two strokes that were initiated by the coronavirus infection.

Dr. Chandratheva, as he was leaving the hospital, said, "Paul had a blank expression on his face" and that "[h]e could only see on one side and he couldn't figure out how to use his phone or remember his passcode".

It was clear that Paul had suffered another acute stroke, a neurological effect depriving blood supply to reach particular areas of his brain.  He claims that[w]hat we saw was so strange and different”.

Consultant neurologist Arvind Chandratheva points out brain damage on a scan

(Image courtesy of BBC News)

Benedict Michael, another neurologist at the University of Liverpool, among many other scientists, was working with his colleagues to review the patient reports of evidence concerning neurological complications linked to COVID-19 infection.

In a paper he worked on in June, Michael and his colleagues proposed studies of analyzing patient details. Out of the 125 people in the UK with neurological issues or effects relating to a COVID-19 infection, 62% of them reported strokes and hemorrhages, which is the result of damaged blood supply in the brain. Out of those 125 people, another 31% showed evidence for neurological effects involving mental states, level of consciousness, altered confusion, dizziness, etc. From that, 10 people who had details of mental state alteration went on to develop psychosis. 

The evidence is pointing towards a definite link, but researchers are still working on answering questions like what the at-risk demographic of individuals would be. They know that most children who have been infected haven't developed certain neurological effects. But why is that the case? They mainly want to know why these particular symptoms are showing up, as this was treated more like a respiratory virus. How many people will suffer, and what is the reasoning behind how brain tissues are affected? 

"It's clear now that this virus does cause problems in the brain whereas initially, we thought it was all about the lungs. Part of it is due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. But there appear to be many other factors, such as problems with blood clotting and a hyper-inflammatory response of the immune system. We should also ask whether the virus itself is infecting the brain."

-Report author and Professor at the University of Liverpool, Tom Solomon

So as many patient reports are accumulating, scientists and medical professionals are beginning to figure out the link between how the infection causes certain neurological deficits.

“We’re seeing things in the way COVID-19 affects the brain that we haven’t seen before with other viruses,”

-Michael Zandi a senior author and consulting neurologist

Researchers are now pushing for larger effects and efforts to track these patient demographics for the development of these neurological symptoms. Michael Zandi also mentioned that health professionals should go on to incorporate cognitive function testing and assessment reports when treating and examining individuals for COVID-19. Knowing the symptoms and being aware of possible neurological effects that gradually become worse will drastically improve the onset of a series of medical concerns for the patient.  


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Article Author: Minuki Wickramasuriya

Article Editors: Stephanie Sahadeo, Sherilyn Wen