- Researchers used the world’s strongest MRI to conduct the first study of patients suffering from long COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome.
- The MRI showed similarities in the brainstem and midbrain volumes between the two groups.
- Brainstem dysfunction in both types of patients could contribute to neurological, cardiorespiratory symptoms, and movement disorders.
Previous studies show that up to 43% of people infected by SARS-CoV-2 do not recover fully and develop long COVID. Additionally, recently, literature has shown that 13 to 58% of long COVID patients show symptoms— brain fog, fatigue, pain, and autonomic dysfunction—similar to myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Hoping to examine the potential correlations between the ME/CFS and long COVID patients, Griffith University researchers used an ultra-high field MRI (7 Tesla) to conduct the world’s first study to see if the diseases cause the same effects on the human brain.
The team used the 7T MRI—the world’s strongest MRI—to image the brainstem and its sub regions, as the powerful machine can resolve brain structures more precisely than regular MRIS, which are not always able to detect abnormalities.
According to the study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the 7T MRI showed the brainstem was significantly larger in ME/CFS and long COVID patients compared with those who did not suffer from the same ailments. The MRI also showed similar volumes of the brainstem in patients, which could be the reason long COVID patients exhibit all common core symptoms of ME/CFS
“We also discovered smaller midbrain volumes were associated with more severe breathing difficulty in ME/CFS and long COVID patients,” said lead author Kiran Thapaliya. “Therefore, brainstem dysfunction in ME/CFS and long COVID patients could contribute to their neurological, cardiorespiratory symptoms, and movement disorder.”
The 7T MRI used in the study is one of only two in Australia.