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Novel MRI study detects brain changes in Long COVID patients

November 27, 2023 – People who've had long-term COVID show changes in certain parts of their brains not present in individuals who have fully recovered from COVID, in accordance with a study using a novel form of magnetic resonance imaging.

Diffusion microstructure imaging (DMI) studies the movement of water molecules in tissues and may detect very small changes in brain structure that can't be seen with traditional MRI, a Press release said.

Researchers examined brain scans of 89 patients with long COVID, 38 patients who had COVID-19 but didn't report long-term subjective symptoms, and 46 healthy control patients who reported no history of COVID.

The DMI scans didn't show any lack of brain volume, but did show “a specific pattern of microstructural changes in different brain regions, and this pattern differed between those who had long COVID and those who did not,” it said Press release.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to compare patients with long COVID both with a group with no history of COVID-19 and with a group that has had a COVID-19 infection but is subjectively unaffected.” , one in all the authors of the study, said Dr. Alexander Rau in a press release. He is a resident within the departments of Neuroradiology and Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology on the University Hospital Freiburg in Freiburg, Germany.

People who get COVID may experience symptoms for months or years afterward. Symptoms may include fatigue, joint or muscle pain, brain fog, lack of smell and taste, difficulty concentrating, and shortness of breath. Scientists are still working to determine why some people get long COVID and others don't.

The study also found a link between microstructural changes within the brain and brain networks related to impaired perception, smell and fatigue.

“The expression of post-COVID symptoms was associated with specific affected brain networks, suggesting a pathophysiological basis for this syndrome,” Rau said.

The study was presented on the annual meeting the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).