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Advanced MRI Technology Unveils Altered Brain Patterns in Long-COVID Individuals

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Research to be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) indicates that individuals with long COVID exhibit distinctive patterns of brain changes compared to fully recovered COVID-19 patients. This study is the first to compare long COVID patients to both a group without a history of COVID-19 and a group that recovered from COVID-19 without subjective impairment.

Following a COVID-19 infection, 10-25% of patients may develop a post-COVID condition known as "long COVID," characterized by persistent symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, fatigue, joint pain, and more. These symptoms can endure for weeks, months, or, as emerging evidence suggests, even years.

The research employs Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DMI) to study the movement of water molecules in brain tissues. DMI, capable of detecting subtle changes in the brain's microstructure, reveals no brain volume loss or lesions that could explain long COVID symptoms. However, a specific pattern of microstructural changes induced by COVID-19 infection was observed in various brain regions, and this pattern differed between those with long COVID and those without.

The study's use of DMI parameters for gray matter and whole brain analyses uncovered spatial distribution differences and associations with clinical data, including symptoms like fatigue, cognitive impairment, or impaired sense of smell.

These findings emphasize the importance of understanding the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the brain and may contribute to developing targeted treatments for individuals experiencing persistent symptoms. The unique microstructural changes identified in long COVID patients highlight the need for continued research to guide healthcare providers in offering appropriate care and support for affected individuals.


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