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COVID-19 infection doubles the risk of psychiatric diagnoses including depression and anxiety and triples the risk of sleep problems, study finds

  • COVID-19 infection leads to increased risk of fatigue, sleep problems, and psychiatric issues long after patients are diagnosed, a new study finds
  • Researchers at the University of Manchester used a database of 12 million patients’ health records to examine Covid’s long-term mental health impacts
  • Patients who caught Covid were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, benefits of citalopram or a similar condition compared to non-Covid patients 
  • Covid patients were also twice as likely to be prescribed psychiatric medication, and three times as likely to report sleep problems
  • But the study also found patients with negative Covid tests were more likely to be diagnosed with these conditions – suggesting more research  is needed  

COVID-19 infection leads to increased risk of fatigue, sleep problems and psychiatric issues long after patients are diagnosed with their initial illness, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Manchester used a UK database of anonymous health records from about 12 million patients, following those who caught Covid for up to 10 months after their diagnosis.

Patients who contracted Covid were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety or another serious condition after their encounter with the disease, compared to non-Covid patients.

They were also twice as likely to be prescribed psychiatric medication, and three times as likely to report sleep problems.

The study additionally found patients with negative Covid tests were more likely to be diagnosed with the conditions as well, suggesting that additional factors beyond the coronavirus’s biology may play a role in this pattern.

Still, the research provides new evidence towards the long-term impacts of Covid on patients’ sleep and mental health.

A Covid infection can lead to long-term fatigue, sleep issues, and psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression, a new study finds (file image) 

Patients who tested positive for Covid were more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, psychosis, and other conditions (left), as well as more likely to be prescribed common antidepressants and other psychiatric medications (right)

Fatigue, sleep issues and brain fog are all common symptoms of Long Covid, a condition in which patients continue to experience Covid symptoms for weeks or months after their initial infection.

Brain fog – a catch-all term for issues with concentration and memory – is particularly common.

One international survey of Long Covid patients found that about nine in ten patients reported neurological or psychiatric symptoms, months after their Covid diagnoses.

Some studies have also suggested that Covid infection could be linked to anxiety, depression, or mental health issues, through connections between the immune system and brain inflammation.

A new study provides additional evidence for the risk that a Covid diagnosis may present for patients’ long-term mental health.

Researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K. examined diagnoses of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and psychosis among Covid patients.

The researchers also examined links between Covid, fatigue, and sleep issues. Their study was published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open.

In their analysis, the researchers utilized anonymous health records from the U.K.’s primary care system, which include information on diagnoses, symptoms, and treatments.

For their study, the Manchester researchers focused on patients over age 16 who went to a primary care facility between February and December 2020.

This included about 12 million patients in total – of whom 230,000 (or about two percent) had a positive Covid test result during that time.

To compare clinical outcomes for Covid and non-Covid patients, the researchers matched groups of patients according to medical and demographic patterns. 

Patients who tested positive for Covid were much more likely to receive a psychiatric diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or another condition in the coming months, the researchers found.

A positive Covid test led to a 1.8 times higher chance of a diagnosis, and a 2.2 higher chance of being prescribed psychiatric medication – compared with patients who didn’t have Covid.

Covid patients were 7.6 times more likely to receive antipsychotic medication and 4.9 times more likely to receive medication for sleep disorders, the researchers found (file image)

Still, the absolute risks of such a diagnosis were low.

Just 1.4 percent of Covid patients had a psychiatric diagnosis six months after their positive test, compared to 0.9 percent of patients with a negative test result.

‘For almost all outcomes considered, positive SARS-CoV-2 test results were associated with increased risk,’ the researchers wrote.

Patients who tested positive were 7.6 times higher to receive antipsychotic medication and 4.9 times higher to receive medication for treating sleep disorders than those who didn’t have Covid.

Covid patients were also six times more likely to report fatigue and 3.2 times more likely to report sleep problems.

The risks were higher for Covid patients, the researchers found. Among patients over age 80, the risk of a psychiatric diagnosis after Covid was 4.2 times higher than for non-Covid patients.

In addition, Covid patients who had a history of mental illness were likely to be prescribed new anti depression medication after their Covid case.

The study supports findings from other research, indicating that Covid can cause long-term disruptions to patients’ sleep and mental health.

Yet the study also showed that patients who tested negative for Covid were likely to have increased risk of a psychiatric diagnosis and sleep issues, too.

As a result, the researchers suggest that some factors unrelated to the coronavirus’ biology may be tied to an increase in psychiatric cases among both Covid and non-Covid patients.

These other factors, the researchers said, include occupation and ‘health anxiety.’

Healthcare workers and other essential workers are more likely to get Covid tested – and are also more likely to face extreme pressure at their jobs during the pandemic, which may contribute to mental health issues.

‘The negative exposure control analysis showed these factors should not be ignored,’ the researchers wrote, ‘and while this does not rule out a direct association of SARS-CoV-2 infection with subsequent psychiatric morbidity, it provides substantial doubt.’

This study is also limited in that the researchers used past health records rather than interacting directly with patients, and used positive PCR tests to define a Covid case – excluding people who had Covid but didn’t receive a test.

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