Background and objectives: Recovery from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection appears exponential, leaving a tail of patients reporting various long COVID symptoms including unexplained fatigue/exertional intolerance and dysautonomic and sensory concerns. Indirect evidence links long COVID to incident polyneuropathy affecting the small-fiber (sensory/autonomic) axons.
Methods: We analyzed cross-sectional and longitudinal data from patients with World Health Organization (WHO)-defined long COVID without prior neuropathy history or risks who were referred for peripheral neuropathy evaluations. We captured standardized symptoms, examinations, objective neurodiagnostic test results, and outcomes, tracking participants for 1.4 years on average.
Results: Among 17 patients (mean age 43.3 years, 69% female, 94% Caucasian, and 19% Latino), 59% had ≥1 test interpretation confirming neuropathy. These included 63% (10/16) of skin biopsies, 17% (2/12) of electrodiagnostic tests and 50% (4/8) of autonomic function tests. One patient was diagnosed with critical illness axonal neuropathy and another with multifocal demyelinating neuropathy 3 weeks after mild COVID, and ≥10 received small-fiber neuropathy diagnoses. Longitudinal improvement averaged 52%, although none reported complete resolution. For treatment, 65% (11/17) received immunotherapies (corticosteroids and/or IV immunoglobulins).
Discussion: Among evaluated patients with long COVID, prolonged, often disabling, small-fiber neuropathy after mild SARS-CoV-2 was most common, beginning within 1 month of COVID-19 onset. Various evidence suggested infection-triggered immune dysregulation as a common mechanism.
Keywords: Long COVID, Peripheral Neuropathy, COVID-19