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Infectious Diseases

Updated 14 October 2020

Are Covid-19 survivors at heightened risk of PTSD?

Researchers investigated past coronaviruses to determine the possibility of Covid-19 survivors being at heightened risk of PTSD.

  • Patients who have recovered from Covid-19 may experience  headaches, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disruptions and difficulties with concentration
  • Similar symptoms were observed in SARS and MERS
  • These symptoms might indicate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


A new research paper claims that people who have recovered from Covid-19 infection could experience lingering "brain fog", along with certain other symptoms – which could point toward post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These symptoms were allegedly also observed in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks.

According to a news release, those who have recovered from a Covid-19 infection may experience headaches, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disruptions and difficulties with concentration.

Some patients fear that the virus may have caused permanent damage to the brain, but researchers say that such fears are probably unfounded.

Professor Andrew Levine, a clinical professor and neuropsychologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, along with Erin Kaseda, a graduate student of the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, co-authored the research paper. It was published in The Clinical Neuropsychologist.

"The idea is to raise awareness among neuropsychologists that PTSD is something you might want to consider when evaluating persistent cognitive and emotional difficulties among Covid-19 survivors," said Dr Levine.

"When we see someone for neuropsychological testing, we expect them to be at their best, relatively speaking," Dr Levine added. "If we identify a psychiatric illness during our evaluation, and if we believe that condition's symptoms are interfering with their ability to perform at their best, we would want that treated first, and then retest them once it’s under control."

Heightened risk of PTSD

Levine and Kaseda explored literature about SARS and MERS patients, neurological outcomes in Covid-19 survivors, and PTSD in Covid-19 patients. The result of their investigation was that there is, in fact, a heightened risk of PTSD in recovered Covid-19 patients.

In their research breakdown, they detail how the new coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2 – appears to be "neuroinvasive and neurovirulent". This means the virus is able to gain entry to the central nervous system (CNS) "where its presence can potentially lead to both acute and long-term neurological and neuropsychological complications". 

They added that because the virus is so new, there is not yet sufficient data about Covid-19 to draw any definite conclusions. There are, however, people who are not Covid-19 survivors who have suffered from PTSD following similar hospital treatments – like being admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU), and being intubated and placed on a ventilation machine.

The researchers concluded that recovered Covid-19 patients who underwent any of these treatments should be assessed for PTSD.

"Once they have treatment, and hopefully have some remission of their psychiatric symptoms, if the cognitive complaints and the deficits on neuropsychological tests are still there, then that’s more evidence that something else is going on," Kaseda said.

"It's going to be important for clinicians across the board to be keeping up with the literature that's coming out, to make sure they have the most up to date information as these survivors are starting to present for neuropsychological testing."

Covid-19 could affect the brain

The possibility of Covid-19 affecting the human brain isn't really news. Health 24 recently reported on research conducted on other neurological symptoms and diagnoses in Covid-19 patients. There have been reports of encephalopathy, a disease affecting the brain's functionality, along with strokes, hallucinations, haemorrhaging and inflammation.

Another Health24 article reported that doctors and scientists have known for a while that Covid-19 has the potential to severely affect the brain, but that they do not yet fully understand the processes involved. 

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