About 23% of COVID-19 patients develop long-term symptoms: Study
Millions of Americans have recovered from COVID-19 since last March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But an untold number of those patients are still feeling the effects of the novel coronavirus weeks or months after first becoming ill, often known as post-COVID syndrome.
Now, new research is offering the first large-scale insights into the long-term side effects of the virus. In an analysis of 2 million COVID-19 patients, the largest of its kind so far, the nonprofit organization FAIR Health revealed that 23.2% of patients—more than 450,000 people—who had contracted the coronavirus sought treatment for at least one “post-COVID condition” a month or more after their diagnosis.
The most frequently reported symptoms across all ages were muscle pain, breathing difficulties, hyperlipidemia (fatty blood), malaise and fatigue, and hypertension. Other common symptoms of long COVID include headaches, heart palpitations, lingering loss of smell or taste, brain fog, and depression or anxiety, according to the CDC.
Although long-haul symptoms were most likely to occur in those who had experienced severe illness, all types of people were affected. Half of hospitalized patients, 27.5% of symptomatic patients, and 19% of asymptomatic patients reported experiencing long COVID symptoms to their healthcare providers, meaning that even those without a noticeable illness early on can feel side effects later.
Experts have been aware of the still-mysterious condition since last spring, but until this report, there had been no large-scale analysis of just how many people could be affected. Symptoms have been reported as long as nine months after initial diagnosis.
“Many of my post-COVID patients say their primary care doctors dismissed and disregarded their symptoms, which compounds their suffering,” Laurie Jacobs, M.D., an internist at the COVID Recovery Center at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, previously told Prevention. “That doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
The majority of post-COVID conditions were most common in women, per the FAIR Health report—only a handful, like high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and blood clotting, were more likely in men. Most long-haul patients are young and middle-age adults, with relatively few cases among those under 19 and over 59. But again, anyone can experience these conditions.