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Clinical study shows that COVID-19 raises the risk of psychiatric and neurological disorders

Tuesday 06 April 2021

Accumulating evidence indicates that neurological conditions including dementia are associated with an increased risk of severe COVID-19.  A new clinical study now suggests that the inverse may also be true, showing that people who have had COVID-19 may be at increased risk of developing depression, stroke and dementia among other conditions.

In their study, published in Lancet Psychiatry on 6 April, a team of researchers led by Prof. Paul Harrison (University of Oxford, UK) probed a large dataset obtained from a US-based electronic health record network. The TriNetX Analytics Network includes data from over 81 million individuals, collecting demographic details, clinical information and data on inpatient and outpatient care. They examined three groups of individuals: those who were diagnosed with COVID-19, a matched control group of people who were diagnosed with influenza, and a further matched control group of people who were diagnosed with respiratory tract infections.

Focusing on a time period between January and December 2020, the researchers searched the records for diagnoses of 14 different neurological or psychiatric conditions, including depression, stroke, Parkinson's disease, encephalitis and dementia. Among over 236,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19 during this time period, over 33% received a psychiatric or neurological diagnosis within 6 months, with 12.84% receiving their first such diagnosis. The most common diagnosis overall was anxiety disorder, affecting over 17% of individuals. COVID-19 severity influenced the likelihood of diagnosis: people who had been admitted to intensive care and/or suffered from delirium due to COVID-19 were at greater risk compared to those who had not been hospitalised. For example, 2.66% of people aged over 65 years received a first diagnosis of dementia after recovering from COVID-19, increasing to 4.72% of those who had delirium due to COVID-19. More extended studies are now required, to see whether this increased risk remains in the longer term.