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Turkish-German study reveals prolonged COVID-19 health issues

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In a recent study conducted by Turkish and German scientists, concerning individuals who experienced a loss or complete disappearance of their sense of smell following COVID-19, alarming findings have come to light. The research reveals a significant decrease in information flow between the brain’s decision-making and smell centers, resulting in adverse effects on memory, such as forgetfulness and distraction.

More than four years have passed since the onset of COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and while many have recovered from the virus itself, some individuals continue to grapple with persistent cognitive issues often referred to as “brain fog.” These problems include symptoms like loss or impairment of smell, forgetfulness, distraction, absent-mindedness and fatigue.

A team of six scientists from Türkiye and Germany embarked on a comprehensive study, focusing on 145 Turkish patients who had experienced a loss of smell or parosmia for a span of three years. Through functional MRI imaging, the researchers unveiled a reduced flow of information between the brain’s memory, decision-making, and smell centers, effectively mapping the diminished brain connectivity in these patients.

The findings of the research, titled “Functional Connectivity Patterns in Parosmia,” have been published in the esteemed international peer-reviewed journal “Behavioral and Brain Functions,” earning recognition in the global medical community.

Professor Dr. Aytuğ Altundağ, a specialist in Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) and Head and Neck Surgery, emphasized the global prevalence of smell loss triggered by COVID-19. He noted that he has been studying olfactory disorders resulting from other viruses and traumas for years, having treated numerous individuals for this reason. However, during the COVID-19, he observed an unprecedented surge in patients.

Altundağ explained, “Even though three years have passed since the epidemic, there are still people in Türkiye whose sense of smell has decreased or has not returned.” He drew a parallel with the United States, which has reported staggering numbers of COVID-19 cases. “The number of patients with virus reported there so far is 110 million. Approximately 20 million people have lost their sense of smell during the infection,” he stated. “There are 5 million people who have experienced a loss of smell, and their complaints persist.”

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The research conducted by Altundağ and his team delves into the anatomical and functional aspects of prolonged COVID-19. They utilized functional MRIs to analyze the brains of affected patients, revealing a prolonged decrease in brain connectivity, especially among those experiencing smell loss.

Altundağ clarified that COVID-19 can affect the brain via two routes: the nose-brain or the nose-lung pathway. While it was previously believed that the disease’s impact was milder when it followed the nose-brain route, the concept of ‘Long Covid’ shed light on its enduring effects on the brain. The study’s findings demonstrate that the loss of smell in COVID-19 can lead to long-lasting forgetfulness, memory impairment, and reduced cognitive function.

The detection of a slowdown and decrease in nerve conduction during brain mapping reveals valuable insights into treating post-COVID-19 cognitive issues. Altundağ stressed that this data provides clear guidance on treatment needs and the potential long-term effects of the disease.

The study’s findings have prompted Altundağ to propose a range of treatment methods for patients experiencing these problems. He suggested, “We have drug treatments that will reduce inflammation in the brain and olfactory area. In addition, it is necessary to stimulate the brain by giving olfactory exercises and make lifestyle changes. Outdoor sports and exercise should be done, sleep should be regulated. It is a modified version of the current Mediterranean diet, which is lower in carbohydrates and sugar, with plenty of fiber and plenty of fiber.” He also emphasized the importance of diets rich in protein to promote neuron regeneration and connectivity in the brain, potentially preventing future conditions like dementia, distraction, and dysfunction.

Altundağ highlighted the positive outcomes observed in patients who received holistic treatments, such as scent exercises, during their recovery journey. These patients exhibited improved cognitive functions and memory recall.

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Source: Daily Sabah

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