'Brain fog' caused by Covid could be a result of how the virus affects a person's spinal fluid


    The development of memory loss and cognitive issues, often referred to as ‘brain fog’, as a result of Covid infection could be tied to the way the virus affects a person’s spine.

    A research team from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), analyzed the cerebrospinal fluid of Covid survivors to determine if the causes of the brain fog was similar to that of other cognitive conditions.

    They found elevated levels of proteins in the fluid of some Covid survivors, indicating that some inflammation occurred as a result of an immune response to the virus.

    While ‘long Covid’ is a mysterious condition that can manifest itself in many ways, researchers are slowly putting the pieces together. Many long term side-effects a person feels from the virus have been tied to inflammation of different organs as an immune response.

    Researchers found that'brain fog' - or cognitive issues people face after a Covid infection - could be the result of antibodies and inflammation affecting person's cerebrospinal fluid. Many symptoms of'long Covid' have been tied to inflammation of different organs as an immune response to the virus (file photo)

    Researchers found that ‘brain fog’ – or cognitive issues people face after a Covid infection – could be the result of antibodies and inflammation affecting person’s cerebrospinal fluid. Many symptoms of ‘long Covid’ have been tied to inflammation of different organs as an immune response to the virus (file photo)

    ‘It’s possible that the immune system, stimulated by the virus, may be functioning in an unintended pathological way,’ Dr Joanna Hellmuth, senior author of the study and researchers at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, in a statement.

    Researchers, who published their findings Wednesday in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, recruited 32 Covid survivors for the study. None of the participants had a serious enough case of the virus that it required hospitalization.

    Of the study group, 22 patients reported cognitive issues post-infection, while the other ten served as a control group. 

    Lumbar punctures, where a needle is inserted into a person’s spine to collect fluid, on 17 participants, 13 of which experienced cognitive symptoms.

    Ten of the 13 patients in the brain fog group displayed abnormalities in their cerebrospinal fluid, including elevated protein levels and prevalence of antibodies they did not expect to be present.

    None of the four patients who had their fluid analyzed and did not experience cognitive symptoms were found to have the antibodies or elevated protein levels. 

    The research team is hopeful that their results will help physicians and scientists better understand why exactly people are experiencing brain fog as a result of Covid infection. 

    Experiencing brain fog can be devastating, and potentially life-altering to some.

    ‘They manifest as problems remembering recent events, coming up with names or words, staying focused, and issues with holding onto and manipulating information, as well as slowed processing speed,’  Hellmuth said of people struggling with brain fog.

    A young, healthy, person with a perfectly functional brain may suddenly have trouble with basic memory and cognition.

    It could affect them in their day to day life, and hurt their job performance. In the most serious of cases, it can stop a person from taking part in day-to-day activities.

    Brain fog is not the only common symptom tied to ‘long Covid’. Some people report severe fatigue, leaving them bed-ridden for months in the most serious cases.

    Others also report long term anosmia and parosmia, body aches, headaches and even psychiatric symptoms in rare cases.

    It is also a condition that seems more likely to appear in people who suffer from more mild Covid cases, meaning that younger, healthier people actually bear the most risk. 

    ‘A very large proportion of people who developed long Covid had relatively mild initial infections, and in some cases were even asymptomatic,’ Dr Noah Greenspan, a New York City-based pulmonologist who operates a long Covid clinic in the city, told DailyMail.com.

    ‘Conversely, while many patients who had severe initial infections, even winding up in ICU’s or on ventilators do have a prolonged recovery, I would not consider them long haulers in the same way as people who go on to develop new symptoms, additional symptoms, or worsening symptoms, weeks or months after recovering from their acute infection. 

    ‘In my experience, these patients can often recover in an even more predictable manner than long haulers.’

    Greenspan previously told DailyMail.com that around 30 percent of Covid patients will develop long Covid in some form. 


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