Clinical Electroencephalography Findings and Considerations in Hospitalized Patients With Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Neurohospitalist. 2021 Jul;11(3):204-213. doi: 10.1177/1941874420972237. Epub 2020 Dec 3.


Background and purpose: Reports have suggested that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) causes neurologic manifestations including encephalopathy and seizures. However, there has been relatively limited electrophysiology data to contextualize these specific concerns and to understand their associated clinical factors. Our objective was to identify EEG abnormalities present in patients with SARS-CoV-2, and to determine whether they reflect new or preexisting brain pathology.

Methods: We studied a consecutive series of hospitalized patients with SARS-CoV-2 who received an EEG, obtained using tailored safety protocols. Data from EEG reports and clinical records were analyzed to identify EEG abnormalities and possible clinical associations, including neurologic symptoms, new or preexisting brain pathology, and sedation practices.

Results: We identified 37 patients with SARS-CoV-2 who underwent EEG, of whom 14 had epileptiform findings (38%). Patients with epileptiform findings were more likely to have preexisting brain pathology (6/14, 43%) than patients without epileptiform findings (2/23, 9%; p = 0.042). There were no clear differences in rates of acute brain pathology. One case of nonconvulsive status epilepticus was captured, but was not clearly a direct consequence of SARS-CoV-2. Abnormalities of background rhythms were common, as may be seen in systemic illness, and in part associated with recent sedation (p = 0.022).

Conclusions: Epileptiform abnormalities were common in patients with SARS-CoV-2 referred for EEG, but particularly in the context of preexisting brain pathology and sedation. These findings suggest that neurologic manifestations during SARS-CoV-2 infection may not solely relate to the infection itself, but rather may also reflect patients' broader, preexisting neurologic vulnerabilities.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; coronavirus; electroencephalography; sedation; seizure.