Advanced scanning technology that combines MRI with ultrasound can help identify the source of debilitating nerve pain in ‘Long Covid’ patients
- Northwestern University academics combined MRI scans with ultrasound
- High resolution images identify the source of pain in ‘Long Covid’ patients
- Can be used to identify nerve damage and the severity of the condition
Long Covid patients often struggle with unexplained fatigue and debilitating pain all over their bodies, and experts have been unable to explain what causes it.
But a high-resolution MRI scan developed in the US can pinpoint the cause of nerve damage and help determine the best course of treatment.
The technology combines magnetic resonance imaging with ultrasound to locate the source of pain, the number of nerves affected, and any muscle damage.
Magnetic resonance imaging combined with ultrasound technology helps locate the source of pain, reveals the severity, number of nerves affected, and any muscle damage
Pictured, the source of nerve damage that can be caused by a coronavirus infection and can cause chronic and debilitating pain in Long Covid patients
Covid patients in the prone position – lying on their stomach – may experience chronic pain in their arms, legs, feet, and hands during treatment.
This is because prone position, a life-saving measure to help people breathe, can also cause nerve damage, according to previous research.
How the coronavirus infects the BRAIN
The coronavirus can reach the human brain after it is inhaled through a person’s nose and becomes trapped in the nasal mucus, a study found.
It is the first known evidence that the coronavirus can infect neurons of the brain through the mucosal pathway.
In the course of the pandemic, it has become clear that the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, causes not only breathlessness, but also neurological problems.
For example, one in three report symptoms such as loss of smell or taste, headache, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea.
Scientists in Germany performed autopsies on 33 patients who died of Covid-19 and examined the mucus at the back of the nose – above the mouth where the throat joins the nasal cavity – as well as samples of brain tissue.
Coronavirus genetic material was present in greatest amounts in the nasal cavity mucus, but the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins – which protrude from the virus and cling to human receptors to infect the cells – were also found in found the brain.
Dr. Frank Heppner, co-author of the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin study, says, “Once in the olfactory mucosa, the virus appears to use neuroanatomical compounds, such as the olfactory nerve, to reach the brain.”
But while the location of the pain is clear, the source is often puzzling.
Lead author of the study, assistant professor Dr. Swati Deshmukh, from Northwestern University in the US, said, “Let’s say you have numbness in your fingers.
Maybe it’s because of problems in your neck, elbow or wrist, and the best way to find out is with an MRI or ultrasound.
“We provide advanced imaging that shows even very, very small nerves, helping us locate where the problem is, assess its severity and suggest what might be causing the problem.”
The coronavirus causes severe symptoms by forcing the body’s immune response to confuse and attack healthy tissues, not just infected cells.
As a result, the individual suffers from severe inflammation and experts speculate that it can attack the nerves.
Dr. Deshmukh said, “Just as the body’s immune response attacks the lungs in severe COVID cases, some patients have an immune response that attacks their nerves.
“Another group of patients developed hematomas as a complication of the blood thinners they were treated with when they had COVID.”
‘Advanced ultrasound technology is new, portable, cheaper and can sometimes even better detect nerve damage than MRI.
“Ultrasound can also be performed in patients who cannot tolerate MRI.”
The scans will help doctors decide whether to refer patients to a rehab specialist or, in more severe cases, to a surgeon, the researchers say.
Dr. Deshmukh said: “If imaging detects nerve damage as a result of an inflammatory response, the patient may be better served by seeing a neurologist.
“If imaging shows nerve damage from a hematoma, blood-thinning drugs should be adjusted immediately and the patient may even need to see a surgeon.”
The findings have been published in the journal Radiology.