High-dose glucocorticoids in COVID-19 patients with acute encephalopathy: clinical and imaging findings in a retrospective cohort study

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2024 Apr;131(4):377-384. doi: 10.1007/s00702-024-02751-9. Epub 2024 Feb 16.


Objectives: Acute encephalopathy (AE) has been described as a severe complication of COVID-19. Inflammation has been suggested as a pathogenic mechanism, with high-dose glucocorticoids (GC) showing a beneficial effect. Here, we retrospectively analyzed the clinical and radiological features in a group of COVID-19 AE patients who received GC treatment (GT) and in a non-treated (NT) group.

Method: Thirty-six patients with COVID-19 AE (mean age 72.6 ± 11 years; 86.11% men) were evaluated for GC treatment. Twelve patients (mean age 73.6 ± 4.5 years; 66.67% men) received GC, whereas 24 patients who showed signs of spontaneous remission were not treated with GC (mean age 70.1 ± 8.6 years; 95.83% men). Differences in clinical characteristics and correlations with imaging features were explored.

Results: The GT group showed signs of vulnerability, with a longer hospitalization (p = 0.009) and AE duration (p = 0.012) and a higher hypertensive arteriopathy (HTNA) score (p = 0.022), when compared to NT group. At hospital discharge, the two groups were comparable in terms of clinical outcome (modified Rankin scale; p = 0.666) or mortality (p = 0.607). In our whole group analyses, AE severity was positively correlated with periventricular white matter hyperintensities (p = 0.011), deep enlarged perivascular spaces (p = 0.039) and HTNA score (p = 0.014).

Conclusion: This study suggests that, despite signs of radiological vulnerability and AE severity, patients treated by high-dose GC showed similar outcome at discharge, with respect to NT patients. Imaging features of cerebral small vessel disease correlated with AE severity, supporting the hypothesis that brain structural vulnerability can impact AE in COVID-19.

Keywords: Acute encephalopathy; COVID-19; High-dose glucocorticoids (GC); MRI; Microbleeds; White matter hyperintensities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19* / complications
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases* / pathology
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Glucocorticoids