Long COVID-19: Objectifying most self-reported neurological symptoms

Ann Clin Transl Neurol. 2022 Feb;9(2):141-154. doi: 10.1002/acn3.51496. Epub 2022 Jan 20.


Objectives: We aimed to objectify and compare persisting self-reported symptoms in initially hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients after infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) by applying clinical standardized measures.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of adult patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection including medical history, neurological examination, blood markers, neuropsychological testing, patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs), and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Results: Fifty patients with persisting symptoms for at least 4 weeks were included and classified by initial hospitalization status. Median time from SARS-CoV-2 detection to investigation was 29.3 weeks (range 3.3-57.9). Although individual cognitive performance was generally within the normative range in both groups, mostly mild deficits were found in attention, executive functions, and memory. Hospitalized patients performed worse in global cognition, logical reasoning, and processes of verbal memory. In both groups, fatigue severity was associated with reduced performance in attention and psychomotor speed tasks (rs = -0.40, p < 0.05) and reduced quality of life (EQ5D, rs = 0.57, p < 0.001) and with more persisting symptoms (median 3 vs. 6, p < 0.01). PROMs identified fatigue, reduced sleep quality, and increased anxiety and depression in both groups but more pronounced in non-hospitalized patients. Brain MRI revealed microbleeds exclusively in hospitalized patients (n = 5).

Interpretation: Regardless of initial COVID-19 severity, an individuals' mental and physical health can be severely impaired in the long-term limitedly objectified by clinical standard diagnostic with abnormalities primarily found in hospitalized patients. This needs to be considered when planning rehabilitation therapies and should give rise to new biomarker research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • COVID-19 / physiopathology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome
  • Quality of Life*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity
  • Self Report*