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‘Long COVID’ could be taking four different forms

Published on 16/10/20 at 12:57pm
Photo by the CDC

People experiencing chronic illnesses after COVID-19 infections could be suffering from one of four separate conditions, according to new research.

This was conducted by the National Institute for Health Research, which said thousands could be living with long-term conditions linked to COVID-19 infections.

They may fall under four different syndromes: permanent organ damage to lungs and heart, post-intensive care syndrome, post-viral fatigue symptoms and continuing COVID-19 symptoms. The report says there is an urgent need for people to understand the symptom journey for many people who caught the virus, and that it does not end with initial recovery or hospital treatment.

The review differs from previous work done on the similar focus topics, as the team took the decision to write the review despite the small amount of published evidence on Long COVID. Instead, they used patient reference groups who provided them with a range of perspectives to help them understand why people do not recover from COVID quickly.

The team is still using public data on the virus to draw conclusions on Long COVID. They cite a study from Rome that found that 87% of people discharged from a local hospital still experienced at least one symptom of the virus 60 days after first experiencing symptoms: 55% had three or more symptoms including fatigue, difficulty in breathing, joining paint and chest pain, while 40% said it had reduced their quality of life. They also cite a 5 June article from NHS England that said that 45% of COVID-19 patients would need ongoing support, with estimates going as high as 50% of people hospitalised would need formal rehabilitation service.

The study also used focus groups of people who were suffering from prolonged symptoms. The researchers discussed moving from an acute phase to a chronic or recovery phase, where symptoms often moved to different parts of their body. This included symptoms of respiratory, cardiovascular, urological, neurological, dermatological, gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal illnesses. 

The report concludes with the suggestion that more support is needed for these types of COVID-19 patients, and more cases of Long COVID will disproportionately affect the BAME communities and those with pre-existing conditions.

Dr Elaine Maxwell, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our aim is that healthcare services and staff will use this review to better understand the experiences patients have to deal with, and provide them with the access to treatment, care and support they need.”

Conor Kavanagh

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