By Dr. Max Gomez

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A disturbing number of COVID patients become long haulers, even after they get over their initial infection.

Now a first of its kind study looks at what neurological symptoms are most common in COVID-19 long haulers.

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CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez has details and who is more likely to suffer with problems.

Sara Buursma was a healthy mother of three before she got COVID-19 last March. The 37-year-old has been dealing with many issues since, from shortness of breath to brain fog.

COVID VACCINE

“It’s scary. I don’t know what’s going on with my health. I’ve never had health issues. I was always a very active person,” Buursma said.

A new Northwestern Medicine study looked at 100 long haulers who did not need to be hospitalized with COVID and found their average age was just 43, 70% were women and 85% experienced four or more neurological symptoms including brain fog, headache, numbness/tingling, disorder of taste or smell and muscle pain.

“We think long COVID is most likely a post-infectious autoimmune problem rather than persistent infection,” said Dr. Igor Koralnik, chief of division of neuroinfectious diseases and global neurology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

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CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Forty-two percent of patients had anxiety or depression before COVID, suggesting mental health conditions could play a role in some long COVID symptoms.

At Northwestern’s Neuro COVID-19 Clinic, research is underway to figure out the best way to manage and treat these lingering, debilitating symptoms.

“Patients who are intensely fatigued can get minor stimulants also that can help them,” Koralnik said. “Patients who test below their expected average on cognitive tests can be referred for cognitive rehab.”

Sara’s brain fog and shortness of breath are improving with medication.

“Don’t settle for someone that might not know what you’re going through or thinks that maybe it’s just in your head. Well, it’s not,” she said.

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Researchers also found 16% of long haulers had previous autoimmune diseases, which could partly explain why women are more commonly affected than men since women are more likely develop autoimmune diseases than men.

Dr. Max Gomez