Chest pain, fever, bowel incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and limb swelling were among the other symptoms.
Long COVID refers to people who have persistent symptoms after a COVID infection.
It has symptoms, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, have a significant impact on people’s daily activities, quality of life, and work capacity. However, long-term COVID symptoms are much broader than this.
The study identified 62 symptoms associated with long COVID in a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine.
The team also looked into some of the factors that have been linked to an increased risk of developing long COVID. The majority of people infected with COVID have been managed in primary care, despite the fact that much of the initial research to understand long COVID was done in people who were hospitalised. As a result, the teams says they know very little about long COVID in people who have typically milder initial infections.
From January 2020 to April 2021, the researchers examined electronic primary care records from over 450,000 people in England with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID and 1.9 million people with no prior history of COVID. They closely matched both groups in terms of demographic, social, and clinical characteristics. Then they looked at the differences in how 115 symptoms were reported to doctors. The team measured this for those who had COVID at least 12 weeks after infection.
Individuals with COVID were likely to report 62 symptoms, just 20 of which are covered in the World Health Organization’s clinical case description for long COVID. Some of these symptoms, such as loss of smell, breathlessness, and exhaustion, were expected. However, some of the symptoms we discovered to be strongly associated with COVID after 12 weeks were unexpected and less recognised, such as hair loss and decreased libido. Chest pain, fever, bowel incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and limb swelling were among the other symptoms. It was also discovered that younger women belonging to certain ethnic minority groups, lower socioeconomic status, smoking, obesity, and a variety of medical ailments were all linked with an increased risk of reporting prolonged side effects upwards of 12 weeks after COVID infection.
Based on the clusters of symptoms reported, our analysis suggests that long COVID can be classified into three distinct groups. The biggest cluster, which comprised roughly 80% of people with long COVID throughout the study, experienced a wide range of symptoms, ranging from fatigue to headache to pain. The second-largest group (15%) primarily had mental health and cognitive symptoms such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, and insomnia. The third and smallest group, accounting for the remaining 5%, was characterised by respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.
The study was limited to comparing symptoms reported by people with and without a history of confirmed COVID. It’s also possible that some patients in the comparison group had COVID but were not tested or did not notify their doctor. Nevertheless, the researchers believe that their findings affirm what people with long COVID have been saying about the broad scope and variety of their symptoms throughout the pandemic.
It also emphasises that their symptoms cannot be attributed to other factors such as pre-existing health conditions or the effects of stress linked to surviving the pandemic.
Given the breadth and diversity of long COVID symptoms reported in surveys, long COVID is more likely to represent a group of distinct conditions that occur as a result of COVID infection. Investigating how long COVID symptoms differ between groups could aid scientists in understanding the various disease processes in the body that cause long COVID.