The “brain fog” reported by some people after COVID-19 shows striking similarities to the condition known as “chemo brain” – the mental cloudiness some people experience during and after cancer treatment, according to new research.
People who had COVID-19 “frequently experience lingering neurological symptoms, including impairment in attention, concentration, speed of information processing and memory,” similar to patients with cancer therapy-related cognitive impairment that is known to involve inflammation of the brain, the researchers explained in a report posted this week on bioRxiv ahead of peer review.
In the brains of patients who died of COVID-19, the researchers found evidence of inflammation along with high levels of inflammatory proteins, one of which, CCL11, is linked with impairments in nervous system health and cognitive function.
Among 63 patients with so-called long COVID, the researchers found high CCL11 levels in the 48 with lingering cognitive symptoms, but not in the 15 without cognitive issues. They speculate that treatments showing promise for cancer therapy-related cognitive impairment might be helpful for COVID-19 patients with similar problems. But they would need to be tested specifically for long COVID.