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Coronavirus ‘can cause stroke-like brain damage’ from body battling off virus
January 11, 2021
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Brain damage usually associated with strokes can be caused by your body battling off coronavirus, a study suggests.
Scientists used an MRI scanner to study brain tissue samples from patients who died after becoming infected.
They saw signs of damage caused by "thinning and leaky" brain blood vessels.
Researchers say it may have been caused by the "body’s inflammatory response to the virus".
But the team from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US saw no signs of Covid-19 in the samples.
They say this suggests the damage was not caused by the virus directly infecting the brain.
Avindra Nath, clinical director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said: "We found that the brains of patients who contract infection from SARS-CoV-2 may be susceptible to microvascular blood vessel damage.
"Our results suggest that this may be caused by the body’s inflammatory response to the virus.
"We hope these results will help doctors understand the full spectrum of problems patients may suffer so that we can come up with better treatments."
Dr Nath said the researchers originally expected to see damage "caused by a lack of oxygen".
But instead, they found "multifocal areas of damage" that is "usually associated with strokes and neuroinflammatory diseases".
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He added: "We were completely surprised."
The scientists hope the work could lead to better treatments for Covid patients.
Researchers looked at samples from 19 patients, aged five to 73, who died after contracting the disease.
Dr Nath went on: "So far, our results suggest that the damage we saw may not have been not caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus directly infecting the brain.
"In the future, we plan to study how Covid-19 harms the brain’s blood vessels and whether that produces some of the short- and long-term symptoms we see in patients."
Previous studies have found Covid can cause blood vessel damage and inflammation.
Scientists are still trying to understand how the virus affects the brain.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Meanwhile, a study in China found symptoms of Covid may stick around for up to six months.
Research found patients who first tested positive in Wuhan at the start of the outbreak last January were still experiencing several symptoms including difficulty sleeping by May 2020.
Around 63% of the patients whose data was studied were still experiencing fatigue, while a further 26% of people faced difficulty sleeping.