By now, most of your reading this can probably recite the typical symptoms caused by Covid-19. You would correctly list coughing, fever, aches, tiredness, sore throat, and in some cases shortness of breath and respiratory distress. These sound like they come from a respiratory infection and are easily connected to COVID-19. Recent evidence suggests that there is another set of symptoms that we need to pay attention to as well, since one-third of COVID-19 patients experience them. The new evidence points to a set of neurologic symptoms that 30-40 % of patients have reported. Some neurologic symptoms are mild, like dizziness or headache. But several reports have described COVID-19 patients suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Guillain-Barre syndrome is a neurological disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks nerve cells, resulting in muscle weakness and eventually paralysis. While most patients with Guillain-Barre recover fully, some suffer from residual paralysis. Other studies have described severe COVID-19 brain inflammation and swelling, called encephalitis, and stroke in healthy young people with otherwise mild COVID-19 symptoms. Other more specific and severe symptoms reported include loss of smell or taste, muscle weakness, seizure, and hallucinations. These symptoms occur in the more severe cases, but sometimes, even after recovery, symptoms can persist. Persistent symptoms in severe cases have been reported as changes in consciousness, disorientation, inattention, and movement disorders. Intense loss of smell and taste have reported in milder cases, but they typically recover in 2-4 weeks. Some experts are suggesting that these sensory losses be included in early screening for COVID-19 since they are early warning signs of the infection.
Some groups of people, like the elderly or those with diabetes, are at higher risk of getting COVID-19 and are more likely to get really sick from it. These groups are joined by people with degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease. Some adults with these conditions may be taking medications that compromise their immune system, have other co-morbidities, or may not move or exercise as much, all factors that increase their risk of becoming seriously sick from COVID-19. It is recommended that adults in these at-risk groups take extra precautions by following suggested social distancing and personal protective equipment, like masks, when in public. They should be extra careful! They should also seek medical advice or a telehealth visit if they are experiencing minor signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19. They should contact their doctor or call 911 right away if they have:
- A really hard time breathing
- Constant pain or pressure in the chest
- Trouble thinking clearly
- A blue tint to lips or face
Telehealth visits are especially beneficial for patients who have conditions that require regular medical checkups, but that place them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 if out in public. Some insurances cover the costs of telehealth for many medical services, but patients should contact their insurance provider and medical practitioner to determine if telehealth is covered and is an option for regular medical assessment while COVID-19 has us indoors.
Stay strong. Stay active. Stay aware.
Stay patient as we ride this pandemic out together. Remember that COVID-19 is not just a cough or sore throat, but can also change your sense of smell and taste, and much worse.