In a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, scientists found psychological distress, including depression, anxiety, worry, perceived stress, and loneliness, before COVID-19 infection was associated with an increased risk of long COVID.
Distress was more strongly linked to developing long COVID than physical health risk factors such as obesity, asthma, and high blood pressure.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 20% of American adults who have had COVID-19 have developed long COVID.
It is defined as experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms, such as fatigue, brain fog, or respiratory, heart, neurological, or digestive symptoms, for longer than four weeks after infection.
Severe COVID-19 illness increases the risk of long COVID, although people with milder COVID-19 cases can also develop long COVID.
Symptoms, which can be debilitating, could last months or years, and little is known about which traits are linked to developing long COVID.
In the study, the team enrolled more than 54,000 people in April 2020. At the beginning of the study, the researchers asked the participants about their psychological distress.
Over the following year, more than 3,000 participants contracted COVID-19, and the researchers asked participants about their COVID-19 symptoms and symptom duration.
The team found that distress before COVID-19 infection, including depression, anxiety, worry, perceived stress, and loneliness, was linked to a 32%-46% increased risk of long COVID.
These types of psychological distress were also linked to a 15%–51% greater risk of daily life impairment due to long COVID.
This is the first prospective study to show that a wide range of social and psychological factors are risk factors for long COVID and daily life impairment due to long COVID.
The team says doctors need to consider psychological health in addition to physical health as risk factors for long COVID-19.
These results also reinforce the need to increase public awareness of the importance of mental health and to get mental health care for people who need it, including increasing the supply of mental health clinicians and improving access to care.
If you care about COVID, please read studies about a new way to predict severe COVID-19 and past COVID-19 infection, but not vaccination could boost antibodies.
The study was conducted by Siwen Wang et al and published in JAMA Psychiatry.
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