In a new study from Penn State, researchers found more than half of the 236 million people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide since December 2019 will experience post-COVID symptoms — more commonly known as “long COVID” — up to six months after recovering.
They found adults, as well as children, can experience several adverse health issues for six months or longer after recovering from COVID-19.
During their illnesses, many patients with COVID-19 experience symptoms, such as tiredness, difficulty breathing, chest pain, sore joints and loss of taste or smell.
In the study, the researchers examined worldwide studies involving unvaccinated patients who recovered from COVID-19.
The researchers conducted a systematic review of 57 reports that included data from 250,351 unvaccinated adults and children who were diagnosed with COVID-19 from December 2019 through March 2021.
The researchers analyzed patients’ health post-COVID during three intervals at one month (short-term), two to five months (intermediate-term) and six or more months (long-term).
They found survivors experienced an array of residual health issues associated with COVID-19. Generally, these complications affected a patient’s general well-being, mobility or organ systems.
Overall, one in two survivors experienced long-term COVID manifestations. The rates remained largely constant from one month through six or more months after their initial illness.
The investigators noted several trends among survivors, such as:
- General well-being: More than half of all patients reported weight loss, fatigue, fever or pain.
- Mobility: Roughly one in five survivors experienced a decrease in mobility.
- Neurologic concerns: Nearly one in four survivors experienced difficulty concentrating.
- Mental health disorders: Nearly one in three patients were diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorders.
- Lung abnormalities: Six in ten survivors had chest imaging abnormality and more than a quarter of patients had difficulty breathing.
- Cardiovascular issues: Chest pain and palpitations were among the commonly reported conditions.
- Skin conditions: Nearly one in five patients experienced hair loss or rashes.
- Digestive issues: Stomach pain, lack of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting were among the commonly reported conditions.
These findings confirm what many health care workers and COVID-19 survivors have been claiming, namely, that adverse health effects from COVID-19 can linger.
The mechanisms by which COVID-19 causes lingering symptoms in survivors are not fully understood.
These symptoms could result from immune-system overdrive triggered by the virus, lingering infection, reinfection or an increased production of autoantibodies (antibodies directed at their own tissues).
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, the agent that causes COVID-19, can access, enter and live in the nervous system. As a result, nervous system symptoms such as taste or smell disorders, memory impairment and decreased attention and concentration commonly occur in survivors.
If you care about COVID-19, please read studies about prolonged brain dysfunction in COVID-19 survivors: A pandemic in its own right? and findings of 7 out of 10 COVID-19 patients in hospital will have long-haul symptoms.
For more information about COVID-19 and your health, please see recent studies about 1 in 3 COVID survivors has long-term symptoms and results showing that this heart failure drug may treat COVID-19 long-hauler symptom.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open. One author of the study is Vernon Chinchilli.
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