Long-Covid Brain Changes Match Chronic Fatigue, Brain Scans Show 2023

Long COVID and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue disease (ME/CFS) appear to affect the oldest areas of the brain in a manner that is eerily identical.

Utilizing a high-resolution form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Australian researchers determined the brainstem areas of 10 ME/CFS patients and 8 long COVID patients are considerably bigger than those of 10 healthy controls.

The brainstem links the spinal cord to the cerebrum, the biggest portion of the brain. The stem consists of the midbrain, the pons, and the medulla oblongata, from the top down.

The pons, which is Latin for bridge, is involved in unconscious activities such as sleep and wake cycles, regulation of our respiratory rate, and processing of pain.

The medulla oblongata is connected to the ‘small brain’ or hindbrain, the cerebellum, through a number of nerve lines that resemble ropes. The cerebellum sits atop the brain stem and aids in the coordination of balance and movement.

In the current study, the greater the volume of these brainstem areas, the greater the likelihood that patients would report breathing difficulty or discomfort on questionnaires.

Researchers from Griffith University conclude that brainstem dysfunction may contribute to respiratory-related symptoms in ME/CFS and long-term COVID.

The authors claim that this is the first study to establish a neurological overlap between ME/CFS and long-term COVID.

The results may help explain the many symptoms shared by both disorders, including brain fog, dizziness, headaches, restless sleep, shortness of breath, body pains, weariness after exertion, and heart rate and blood pressure problems.

When scientists identified the first extended COVID patients in 2020, both experts and patients have noted the similarity between SARS-CoV-2 viral fallout and ME/CFS symptoms.

Many hypothesize that the two diseases are connected or possibly caused by the same mechanisms, meaning that study on one might help us understand and cure the other.

According to research, between 13 and 58% of individuals with lengthy COVID fit the diagnostic criteria for ME/CFS. Due to the lack of agreement on how to identify these illnesses, however, these figures are questionable.

Scientists do not know enough about each ailment at this time to make a definitive statement. This has less to do with the’mysterious’ character of these diseases and more to do with a lack of investigation.

Even before COVID-19 came to our attention, the health burden of ME/CFS in the United States was estimated to be double that of HIV/ AIDS. Despite this, it is the most underfunded disease in the US National Institute of Health’s records based on its relative harm, receiving only 7 percent of the funding it should receive in comparison to other similar diseases.

No one understands what causes ME/CFS, how to adequately diagnose it, or how to effectively treat it. Many instances are attributable to viral infections or immunological dysfunction, whereas others have no known cause.

In contrast, protracted COVID is caused by a recognized virus, and scientists do not yet comprehend how the disease causes such damage to the body and mind.

At this moment, researchers have more questions than solutions, but several important culprits continue to emerge.

The brain and brainstem, in particular, appear to be where much of the activity takes place.

Current research has revealed that even those with low COVID-19 have substantial brain alterations, such as inflammation. Moreover, according to postmortem investigations, the brains of people who died with COVID-19 seemed frighteningly old.

An research based on data from the UK Biobank reveals that the brainstem is frequently enlarged in COVID-19 patients.

Researchers have employed MRIs to examine the brains of ME/CFS patients since the 1990s. Relative to healthy controls, it is usual for the volume of particular brain areas to vary inexplicably, and the brain stem is one of the places that stands out.

With the development of modern technology, scientists can examine this region of the brain in more detail than ever before.

In their preliminary investigation, Australian scientists observed no significant difference between the brainstem size of those with ME/CFS and those with lengthy COVID.

“The brainstem governs respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and neurological systems, and its dysfunction might explain the overlap in symptoms between ME/CFS and long-term COVID,” conclude the study’s authors.

“Such volume increases may be indicative of edema caused by inflammatory reactions, neurodegeneration, and/or viral invasion,” they write.

More study will be required to understand which of these channels is responsible for the enlargement of the brain stem in individuals with ME/CFS and long-term COVID, and whether these routes are comparable or distinct.

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