Image of Paul J. Harrison, FRCPsych
Paul J. Harrison, FRCPsych

Fully one third of patients with COVID-19 will develop substantial neurological and psychiatric problems within six months of their diagnosis, according to a large study from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. The researchers foresee a growing need for related clinical services and care.

Investigators used data from participants in the TriNex electronic electronic health records network. Fully 200,000 qualifying patients with a COVID-19 diagnosis in 2020 were matched with control groups who had been diagnosed with either flu or respiratory tract infections, including influenza, in the same period.

Within six months, 34% of the patients with COVID-19 received a diagnosis of neurological or psychiatric nature. For 13%, it was their first such diagnosis, reported Paul J. Harrison, FRCPsych. 

Anxiety disorder was the most common diagnosis. Others included intracranial hemorrhage, ischemic stroke and dementia. Most diagnostic categories were more common in patients with COVID-19 than in those with the flu, and risk was higher with more severe disease. But the incidence and relative risk of neurological and psychiatric diagnoses were increased even in patients with COVID-19 who did not require hospitalization, the authors reported.

COVID-19 was not tied to increased odds of developing Parkinson’s disease or Guillain-Barré syndrome (a complication of flu), the authors noted. 

Harrison and colleagues foresee these patients requiring ongoing care.

“Services need to be configured, and resourced, to deal with this anticipated need,” they concluded.

Full findings were published in The Lancet.