Neurological manifestations of COVID-19: a systematic review

Introduction: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is responsible for the global spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Our understanding of the impact this virus has on the nervous system is limited. Our review aims to inform and improve decision-making among the physicians treating COVID-19 by presenting a systematic analysis of the neurological manifestations experienced within these patients.

Methods: Any study, released prior to May 20, 2020, that reported neurological manifestations in patients infected by SARS-CoV-2 was systematically reviewed using the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systemic review and Meta-Analysis) statement.

Results: Our systematic review included data from 37 articles: twelve retrospective studies, two prospective studies, and the rest case reports/series. The most commonly reported neurological manifestations of COVID-19 were myalgia, headache, altered sensorium, hyposmia, and hypogeusia. Uncommonly, COVID-19 can also present with central nervous system manifestations such as ischemic stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage, encephalo-myelitis, and acute myelitis, peripheral nervous manifestations such as Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome and Bell’s palsy, and skeletal muscle manifestations such as rhabdomyolysis.

Conclusion: While COVID-19 typically presents as a self-limiting respiratory disease, it has been reported in up to 20% of patients to progress to severe illness with multi-organ involvement. The neurological manifestations of COVID-19 are not uncommon, but our study found most resolve with treatment of the underlying infection. Although the timeliness of this review engages current challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, readers must not ignore the limitations and biases intrinsic to an early investigation.

Keywords: Brain; COVID-19; Neurological manifestation; SARS-CoV-2.

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