In a new study, researchers found a new list of symptoms that point to severe COVID-19.
The findings are based on a review of more than 1,000 patients who’ve already sought care for respiratory illnesses since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March.
The research was conducted by a team at Harvard Medical School.
In the study, the team examined more than 1,000 patients seen at a COVID-19 outpatient clinic in Boston.
They found that fever is not a reliable indicator of COVID-19. People who show up at hospital ERs with respiratory symptoms have only slightly elevated body temperatures.
They added that other symptoms are often more specific to COVID-19.
The team says COVID-19 may begin with various permutations of cough without fever, sore throat, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches, back pain, and fatigue. It can also present with severe body aches and exhaustion.
Another key sign of coronavirus illness: A loss of the sense of smell within the first few days of symptom onset.
And what really sets more serious cases of COVID-19 apart is something that’s almost never seen in influenza or other respiratory illnesses: severe shortness of breath.
The team says that in serious COVID-19, shortness of breath is a critical differentiator from other common illnesses.
Shortness of breath is a feeling that you can’t fill your lungs with air as you normally do.
It almost never appears within the first day or two of the onset of other symptoms. But it can appear four or more days after onset of other symptoms.
Shortness of breath can also occur in an anxiety-induced panic attack, and of course, the fear that you might have COVID-19 could spur such an attack.
The COVID-19 shortness of breath tends to develop gradually over a few days, and it gets worse with physical exertion, including performing simple daily activities like walking, climbing stairs, or cleaning.
The team says shortness of breath tied to COVID-19 is a real warning sign that a person might need to seek medical help because of a dangerous dip in oxygen levels in the blood.
Once COVID-19 shortness of breath has been diagnosed, these patients might be released back home, but will still require very close monitoring and frequent follow-up to check how the shortness of breath is evolving, and whether a patient may be deteriorating and may need to go to the hospital.
The lead author of the study is Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard.
The study is published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
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