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Most COVID Long-Haulers Experience Neurologic Symptoms, Compromised Quality of Life Long After Infection, New Study Says

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A new study from Northwestern Medicine shows that many so-called COVID "long-haulers" continue to experience symptoms including brain fog, tingling, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus and fatigue an average of 15 months after the onset of the virus, a press release on Tuesday said.

"Long-haulers,” are defined as individuals who have had COVID symptoms for six or more weeks, the hospital system has said.

According to Igor Koralnik, MD, chief of Neuro-infectious Diseases and Global Neurology at Northwestern Medicine, "The study reports the longest follow-up period of neurologic symptoms impacting non-hospitalized patients suffering from long-COVID anywhere in the world."

Research focused on 52 patients who were never required hospitalized for COVID but were treated for the illness at the Northwestern Medicine Neuro COVID-19 Clinic between May 2020 and November 2020.

The average patient age in the study was 43 years old and 73% were female.

77% of the patients in the study received the COVID vaccine, but the vaccine didn’t have a positive or detrimental impact on cognitive function or fatigue.

Researchers then analyzed patients six to nine months after their initial visit to the clinic, the study says, and found that heart rate, blood pressure variation and gastrointestinal symptoms increased in long-haulers, while loss of taste and smell decreased overall.

Additionally, most continued to experience fatigue and neurologic symptoms like blurred vision, brain fog, dizziness and tingling 11-18 months after initial disease onset.

"I didn’t discover I had COVID until I got better," said Patrick Malia, a 39 year old patient in the study who contracted COVID in the spring of 2020.

"Two months later I still couldn't walk up and down the stairs. Couldn't walk to the kitchen to get water...I worked at the same place for six years and I got lost on my way to work a couple times. I didn't know where I was."

More than two years later, Malia, is still recovering, battling bouts of fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and brain fog.

Malia described the brain fog to one of Northwestern's neurologists as similar to a concussion.

"And now it's almost two years that I feel like I've been walking around the concussion," Malia said.

More information about the study and the clinic can be found here.

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