Delirium Is New Risk for COVID-19 Patients

  • A recent study published in JAMA Neurology found that neurological symptoms were present in almost 40 percentTrusted Source of people with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China.
  • Studies suggest one-third to more than 80 percentTrusted Source of ICU patients experience delirium during their stay.
  • People with ICU delirium are also more likely to have long-term cognitive damageTrusted Source and are less likely to survive.

Although COVID-19 specifically targets the lungs, the damage it causes can include other major organs, especially the brain.

“Many COVID-19 patients have been reported to have neurological symptoms, such as headache, confusion, seizures, and even strokes,” Dr. Halim Fadil, a neurologist and movement disorders specialist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, told Healthline.

A recent study published in JAMA Neurology found that neurological symptoms were present in almost 40 percentTrusted Source of people with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic is believed to have originated.

Lifesaving treatment brings risks

Treatment for people with severe COVID-19 symptoms often relies on ventilators to assist with breathing and powerful, long-term sedationTrusted Source to minimize the pain and discomfort associated with intubation.

However, these lifesaving measures also come with side effects that include confusion, inability to comprehend what’s happening around you, and inability to focus.

Commonly affecting people in intensive care units (ICUs) placed on ventilators, these symptoms indicate an acute brain condition called “ICU deliriumTrusted Source.”

“Delirium is an acute and fluctuating alteration of consciousness and cognition,” Fadil explained.

Symptoms include hallucinations, memory difficulties

“Patients with delirium may have auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, disorientation of time and space, agitation, aggression, fluctuating level of consciousness, and impairment of sleep-wake cycle,” said Dr. Kevin Conner, a neurologist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital and Texas Health Physicians Group.

He explains that “pulmonary fatigue can cause poor ventilation,” which leads to a buildup of carbon dioxide. That can cause “metabolic derangements, confusion, and somnolence.”

According to Conner, patients with delirium can also experience memory difficulties and speech that’s “tangential, disorganized, or incoherent.”