Young, healthy woman suffers brain inflammation after mild COVID-19

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Although COVID-19 is primarily treated as a respiratory disease, patients often experience neurological problems, such as headaches, anxiety, depression and cognitive issues, which can persist long after other symptoms have resolved.

Some research has shown blood vessel damage and inflammation referred to as vasculitis in COVID-19 patients’ brains and central nervous system (CNS).

Most cases of CNS vasculitis have been associated with elderly patients with severe COVID-19.

But in a new study from the University of California San Diego, researchers found a case of a young, healthy adult infected by the COVID-19 virus who also experienced brain damage.

The 26-year-old woman was diagnosed with COVID-19 four days after an airplane flight in mid-March 2020.

Her symptoms were mild but progressed two to three weeks later to difficulty moving her left foot and weakness on the left side of her body. She had no headaches and had experienced no change in her mental status or cognition.

Magnetic resonance imaging, however, showed multiple lesions in the right frontoparietal region of the brain, which is involved in motor control and sensation of the left side of the body.

A biopsy revealed CNS lymphocytic vasculitis—inflammation or swelling of blood vessels in the brain and spine.

The woman underwent a series of corticosteroid-based treatments, began a long-term immunosuppressive medication, and, after six months, the lesions had substantially decreased and no new lesions had formed.

She is still under treatment with immunosuppressive medications.

This patient was first confirmed case of COVID-19 CNS vasculitis, confirmed by biopsy, in a young healthy patient with otherwise mild COVID-19 infection.

The team says her case tells researchers and clinicians to consider these serious potential brain complications even in young patients and those with minor initial COVID-19 infections.

The study is published in Neurology: Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation. One author of the study is Jennifer Graves, MD, Ph.D.

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