Fact Finders: Why does COVID-19 cause fatigue and brain fog?

Updated: Mar. 22, 2021 at 6:04 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Chronic fatigue and brain fog are just some of the side effects people fighting COVID-19 are reporting.

Carmen Irene Arrquives Colombo lives in Tucson and was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020.

“My body was weak. I wasn’t recognizing what was happening around me. I felt like I was dying,” Colombo said.

Colombo said she collapsed twice at home, losing consciousness.

“I envisioned myself like a leaf being taken by the wind. I didn’t have a care for anything. I only wanted to sleep, which is a bit strange because I am a very worrisome person for everything. I like to have everything under control,” Colombo said.

Colombo’s husband, Tracy, rushed her to the hospital where she spent six days recovering from COVID-19.

“Sometimes she acted like she didn’t want to live anymore, but I told her she wasn’t going to leave me,” Tracy said.

Dr. Meredith Hay is a Professor of Physiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Hay is working with a team of researchers to find out why so many people suffering from COVID-19 report symptoms of brain fog and fatigue.

“We started our study very simply by asking those patients in the ICU, the ones hit the hardest, is there evidence of neuroaxonal damage?” Hay said.

Hay said they can measure a protein that comes from the blood in your brain and predict if you will have cognitive impairment.

Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona and is working with Hay on this research.

“We think their brain function may be lost and there is inflammation that is going into the brain and the inflammation in the brain causes us to be fatigued, the nerve cells don’t function right,” Parthasarathy said.

Parthasarathy said they are still working to learn how to prevent and treat the inflammation.

For now, Parthasarathy said what they can do is treat the symptoms. So, if you are having a hard time feeling rested, he suggests seeing if there’s anything else going on that could be treated like sleep apnea.

“Having sleep apnea increases the risk of developing COVID-19 there is a correlation of that means people who survive COVID are more likely to have sleep apnea. We can actually treat them,” Parthasarathy said.

Colombo still suffers from lingering side effects, but she recently received her COVID-19 vaccine and is starting to get back to the things she loves most.

“She has to be on the go, on the go, on the go. I tell her to slow down a little bit,” said Tracy. “She is better.”

This team at the University of Arizona is researching how to treat and prevent these COVID-19 side effects.

If you would like to help this team assess the connections between COVID-19 and cognitive function, consider participating in a survey through MindCrowd.

You will be asked if you have had COVID-19 symptoms over the past several months, been diagnosed with the virus, or tested negative for it.

Participants will be asked to complete cognitive tests in a collaborative effort to help these researchers learn more about brain-related diseases.

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