Cerebral atrophy is characterized by damage to brain tissues. Atrophy of tissue means the loss of cells, including the loss of neurons and the connection between them. Brain shrinkage also comes under brain atrophy. Brain shrinkage applies to the whole brain or certain sections only1. Brain shrinkage comprises dementia, a degenerative brain illness, inflammatory, infectious diseases, brain stroke, and intracranial injury.
Scholars and researchers are investigating the role of the infectious illness COVID-19 on the shrinkage of the brain. This article examines what research has been done until now about COVID-19’s effects on the brain.
COVID-19 affects your brain
COVID-19 symptoms, which last for several weeks, months, or years after recovery, result in post-COVID conditions, also known as long COVID. However, the mechanism was not recognized for the same. Long COVID is one of the reasons for Brain shrinkage. It is the primary source of curiosity among the researchers 1.
A study published in March 2022 by Douaud G in Nature showed the MRI scan in 785 participants of UK Biobank, in which the researcher detected 401 cases with changes in the brain who tested positive for COVID-19. They found differences like tissue damage in the area associated with smell, gray matter thickness reduction (brain outer layer), and shrinkage in brain size. The article also found that patients with brain shrinkage and COVID-19 were experiencing perilous dementia (cognitive decline) 2.
A study by Jennifer Abbasi published in JAMA explains that the reason behind COVID-19-related brain shrinkage is inflammation and viral infection of the brain cells. Yet, it is essential to note that this study was conducted before COVID-19 vaccines were available 3.
Other article published in Brain noted that the patient died in the first pandemic wave due to COVID-19, reported with brain injuries. While performing the brain autopsies, scientists observed damage to neurons and evidence of protein leaks 4.
It is still not investigated whether the brain atrophy caused due to COVID-19 is permanent. Some reports manifest an improvement in the function of the brain after six months of the COVID-19 infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccination will protect us from the long COVID effect caused by COVID-19 infection, including brain shrinkage. The severe illness of COVID-19 disorder leads to the risk of developing post-COVID symptoms. Vaccination lowers the seriousness of the disease caused by infection. However, there is still a chance of developing long COVID after the vaccine administration, as reported by the CDC.
Apart from vaccination, other strategies that help reduce brain atrophy are a healthy diet, blood pressure management, regular exercise, and adopting new hobbies.
Shrinkage of the brain is part of brain atrophy, which is an effect of long COVID. The researcher is still working on the relationship between the brain and COVID-19 infection.
If you have a COVID-19 infection, it does not mean that you will experience brain atrophy. Yet, it is recommended to protect yourself from the disease to prevent the long-lasting effect of the infection. Vaccination and good health practice can prevent brain atrophy.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Cerebral Atrophy. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/cerebral-atrophy#collapseDefinition
- Douaud G, Lee S, Alfaro-Almagro F, Arthofer C, Wang C, et al. SARS-CoV-2 is associated with changes in brain structure in UK Biobank. Nature 2022; 604: 697-707.
- Abbasi J. Even Mild COVID-19 May Change the Brain. JAMA 2022; 327:1321-1322.
- Can COVID-19 Cause Your Brain to Shrink? Headline. https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-shrinkage-covid
- COVID-19. Long COVID or Post-COVID Condition. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2022.