A new study has uncovered a potential link between the effect of Covid-19 on the lungs and the likelihood of patients showing signs of neurological issues.

The global multi-centre study led by the University of Cincinnati found a visual correlation between the severity of the disease in the lungs using CT scans and the severity of effects on patient’s brains, using MRI scans.

The researchers believe their results show that by looking at lung CT scans of patients diagnosed with Covid-19, physicians may be able to predict just how badly they’ll experience other neurological problems that could show up on brain MRIs, helping improve patient outcomes and identify symptoms for earlier treatment.

Abdelkader Mahammedi, MD, assistant professor of radiology and co-lead author of the study said: “We’ve seen patients with Covid-19 experience stroke, brain bleeds and other disorders affecting the brain.

covid-19 neurological issues
Abdelkader Mahammedi, MD, assistant professor of radiology at UC and a UC Health neuroradiologist (Credit: University of Cincinnati)

“So, we’re finding, through patient experiences, that neurological symptoms are correlating to those with more severe respiratory disease; however, little information has been available on identifying potential associations between imaging abnormalities in the brain and lungs in Covid-19 patients.

“Imaging serves as proof for physicians, confirming how an illness is forming and with what severity and helps in making final decisions about a patient’s care.”

The published research can be found in the American Journal of Neuroradiology. 

How did the study draw a link between Covid-19 and neurological issues?

In this study, which was conducted not only at UC, but also at large institutions in Spain, Italy and Brazil, researchers reviewed electronic medical records and images of hospitalised Covid-19 patients from March 3 to June 25, 2020.

Patients who were diagnosed with Covid-19, experienced neurological issues and who had both lung and brain images available were included.

Of 135 Covid-19 patients with abnormal CT lung scans and neurological symptoms, 49, or 36%, were also found to develop abnormal brain scans and were more likely to experience stroke symptoms.

Mahammedi said the study will help physicians classify patients, based on the severity of disease found on their CT scans, into groups more likely to develop brain imaging abnormalities.

He adds that this correlation could be important for implementing therapies, particularly in stroke prevention, to improve outcomes in patients with Covid-19.

“These results are important because they further show that severe lung disease from Covid-19 could mean serious brain complications, and we have the imaging to help prove it,” he said.

“Future larger studies are needed to help us understand the tie better, but for now, we hope these results can be used to help predict care and ensure that patients have the best outcomes.”