Current Care Aids Research for Future Patients
Many patients who are recovering from COVID-19 continue to experience symptoms such as headache, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, decreased smell or taste, weakness or muscle pain. People who are experiencing these neurological side effects of COVID-19 now have access to specialized care through the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“Evidence shows that at least one-third of people who have COVID-19 experience neurological complications,” says Igor Koralnik, MD, chief of Neuroinfectious Diseases and Global Neurology at Northwestern Medicine. “The symptoms can occur as the initial manifestation of COVID-19 or develop throughout the course of the disease. We are providing patients care for these side effects and studying the long-term effects that COVID-19 has on the brain, nervous system and muscles.”
If you were diagnosed with COVID-19 or experienced its symptoms, whether you were hospitalized or not, you can be seen in the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic through a telehealth visit. Dr. Koralnik and his team will investigate, diagnose and manage neurological symptoms for patients affected by the illness. They have also launched studies that will help influence the care of people who have neurological complications of COVID-19 in the future.
“The disease can affect people in different ways, and we personalize treatment based on their symptoms,” Dr. Koralnik says. For example, in some people, respiratory distress can affect the amount of oxygen going to the brain. In others, the virus can directly infect the brain or nerves, or it can cause an overreaction in the immune system that can cause neurological damage.
Patients who receive care through the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic have access to an experienced care team within the Northwestern Medicine Neuroinfectious Diseases Program. The team’s extensive knowledge of infectious diseases that affect the nervous system helps them determine what is causing a patient’s symptoms. The use of telehealth technology makes it easier and safer for patients who are recovering from COVID-19 to receive care, Koralnik says. It also makes the clinic accessible to patients from around the world.
“As new treatments emerge, it is very important to understand the cause of the patient’s symptoms,” explains Dr. Koralnik. For some patients, COVID-19 can lead to stroke, which can damage the brain. Other patients may develop an autoimmune disorder, in which their immune system begins to attack healthy cells. Some have even developed seizure disorders. “There are so many things that need to be treated and studied so we can continue to help patients have the best outcomes.”
The Neuro COVID-19 Clinic team is currently researching how COVID-19 affected the nervous system of patients who received care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “This is important because it is a new pandemic, and we don’t have long-term follow-up information on patients,” Dr. Koralnik says. “All the publications that have come out of China and Europe have only been descriptive of patients’ symptoms over a period of one to two months, and we don’t know enough about their long-term responses to treatment.”
The Neuro COVID-19 Clinic’s unique approach will shape long-term care for people who suffer from neurological complications of COVID-19.
“By providing follow-up care, we will get a better understanding of how to manage this illness,” explains Dr. Koralnik. “The patients who come to this clinic will help us enhance their own care and they will also help others who will have neurological complications from COVID-19 in the future.”