COVID-19 can disrupt electrical activity in frontal lobes of brain
Written by James Kingsland on November 3, 2020 — Fact checked by Alexandra Sanfins, Ph.D.
A review of research suggests that abnormalities in the front of the brain identified by electroencephalography (EEG) tests are common among patients who have neurological symptoms with COVID-19.
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Estimates vary, but approximately 15–25% of patients with severe COVID-19 may experience neurological symptoms, such as headaches, confusion, delirium, impaired consciousness, seizures, and strokes.
Doctors may refer patients who are experiencing neurological symptoms for an EEG test. The test involves placing electrodes on the scalp to monitor the electrical activity of the brain.
To investigate how COVID-19 affects the brain, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, and the University of Pittsburgh, PA, analyzed EEG results from 617 patients, reported in 84 different studies.
The median age of patients who underwent an EEG was 61.3 years, and two-thirds were males.
The most common findings that the researchers identified were the slowing of brain waves and abnormal electrical discharges.
The extent of the EEG abnormalities positively correlated with the severity of the disease and whether the patients had preexisting neurological conditions, such as epilepsy.
The journal Seizure: European Journal of Epilepsy published the review.
Likely entry point
Around a third of the abnormal findings were in the frontal lobes of the brain.
“We know that the most likely entry point for the virus is the nose, so there seems to be a connection between the part of the brain that is located directly next to that entry point,” says Dr. Zulfi Haneef, assistant professor of neurology/neurophysiology at Baylor and one of two co-authors of the study.
“These findings tell us that we need to try EEG on a wider range of patients, as well as other types of brain imaging, such as MRI or CT scans, that will give us a closer look at the frontal lobe,” he adds.
The researchers note that the virus may not be directly responsible for all the damage. Systemic effects of the infection, such as inflammation, low oxygen levels, unusually “sticky” blood, and cardiac arrest, may play a role in EEG abnormalities that extend beyond the frontal lobes.
The study identified “diffuse slowing” in the background electrical activity of the whole brain in almost 70% of patients.