Consumers with long-COVID may have nerve damage, study finds

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Experts say the virus may have long-term effects on the immune system

A new study conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital explored one of the potential side effects of long-COVID. According to their findings, long-term nerve damage may be one of the symptoms associated with a long COVID-19 infection. 

“This is one of the early papers looking into causes of long-COVID, which will steadily increase in importance as acute COVID wanes,” said researcher Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander. “Our findings suggest that some long-COVID patients had damage to their peripheral nerve fibers, and that damage to the small-fiber type of nerve cell may be prominent.” 

Immune system issues lead to nerve damage

The researchers had 17 participants involved in the study who had long-COVID. The team analyzed and tracked their health outcomes for over a year, including neurodiagnostic test results, general symptoms, and medical exams. 

The study found that nearly 60% of the patients had symptoms related to peripheral neuropathy. This can manifest as pain in the hands and feet, weakness, fatigue, and sensory changes. The researchers believe that this neuropathy is related to long-term immune system dysfunction rather than long-term symptoms from the initial infection. 

In terms of treatment and recovery, the team found that more than 50% of the participants noted improvements in their symptoms; however, no one in the group fully recovered during the study period. Many of the participants responded well to current immunotherapies, including corticosteroids and IV immunoglobulin. 

The researchers hope these findings highlight some of the lesser-known risks associated with long-COVID. 

“Research from our team and others is clarifying what the different types of post-COVID neuropathy are, and how best to diagnose and treat them,” Dr. Oaklander said. “Most long-COVID neuropathies described so far appear to reflect immune responses to the virus that went off course. And some patients seem to improve from standard treatments for other immune-related neuropathies.” 

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