Long COVID Resource Center

Long COVID Resource Center

Disclosures: Chinchilli and Ssentongo report no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for a list of all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
October 14, 2021
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More than half of COVID-19 survivors experience symptoms 6 months after recovery

Disclosures: Chinchilli and Ssentongo report no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for a list of all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
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More than half of COVID-19 survivors experience symptoms consistent with long COVID up to 6 months after recovery, data from a systematic review published in JAMA Network Open showed.

Long COVID is defined by the CDC as “new, returning, or ongoing health problems” occurring 4 or more weeks after being initially infected with SARS-CoV-2. It has been linked to more than 200 symptoms.

Coronavirus under the microscope
Source: Adobe Stock.

Researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine and two universities in Australia searched PubMed, Scopus, the WHO Global Literature on Coronavirus Disease, and CoronaCentral databases for studies published from December 2019 through March 2021.

They identified 2,100 studies, including 57 studies with 250,351 survivors of COVID-19 who met trial inclusion criteria. The mean age of survivors was 54.4 years, 140,196 (56%) were male and 197,777 (79%) were hospitalized with acute COVID-19.

The researchers classified symptoms as short term (occurring 1 month after COVID-19 diagnosis or discharge), intermediate (2 to 5 months) and long term (6 months).

After 1 month, 54% of people experienced at least one long COVID symptom (interquartile range [IQR], 45%-69%), and the rate remained similar over the following months. Between 2 and 5 months, 55% experienced at least one symptom (IQR, 34.8%-65.5%). At 6 months, 54% were still experiencing at least one symptom (IQR, 31%-67%).

“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,” Vernon Chinchilli, PhD, co-lead study investigator and chair of the department of public health sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine, said in a news release.

Researchers assessed 38 clinical manifestations in three categories — organ systems (neurologic, respiratory, digestive, etc.), constitutional symptoms and functional mobility.

The most common neurocognitive symptoms were difficulty concentrating (median IQR, 23.8% [20.4%-25.9%]), memory deficits (median IQR, 18.6% [17.3%-22.9%]) and cognitive impairment (median IQR, 17.1% [14.1%-30.5%]).

The most common mental health disorders were anxiety (median IQR, 29.6% [14%-44%]), sleep disorder (median IQR, 27% [19.2%-30.3%]), depression (median IQR, 20.4% [19.2%-21.5%]), and post-traumatic stress (median IQR, 13.3% [7.3%-25.1%]).

“The burden of poor health in COVID-19 survivors is overwhelming,” Paddy Ssentongo, MD, an assistant research professor at the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering, said in the news release. “Among these are the mental health disorders. One's battle with COVID doesn’t end with recovery from the acute infection.”

Other commonly reported symptoms included joint pain (median IQR, 10% [6.1%-19%]), fatigue or muscle weakness (median IQR, 37.5% [25.4%-54.5%]), and flu-like symptoms (median IQR, 10.3% [4.5%-19.2%]).

“Our study was not designed to confirm COVID-19 as the sole cause of these symptoms. It is plausible that symptoms reported by patients in some of the studies examined were due to some other causes," Ssentongo said.