One in eight people who have been infected with the coronavirus still suffer from long-Covid symptoms a few weeks or months after infection. This is what Dutch researchers found out in a large-scale study.
So far, symptoms such as tiredness (fatigue), breathing difficulties and the typical loss of smell and taste have been among the most common long-term consequences of a corona infection.
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A new study by the University of Birmingham, published in the journal Nature Medicine, now suggests that the list of long-Covid complaints known to date is far longer and more varied than previously assumed.
For the large-scale investigation of long-Covid symptoms, the British researchers compared the data of 486,149 people infected with corona with those of 1,944,580 people who had not previously had corona. The adult study participants contracted the Sars-CoV-2 infection between January 2020 and April 2021.
The surprising result: The most common long-Covid symptoms include hair loss, ejaculation disorders and reduced libido. Well-known long-term consequences such as shortness of breath or fatigue were less common among the study participants in direct comparison and ended up in the middle on the list of the most common long-term consequences.
Loss of smell / anosmia (found 6.49 times more often in corona infected people than in non-infected people.)
Another new finding: Long Covid can apparently be associated with more symptoms than previously thought. The study states that the “World Health Organization” (WHO) currently lists 33 symptoms under the clinical case definition of Long Covid.
As part of the study, however, the British researchers identified 62 symptoms that occurred up to twelve weeks after a corona infection and could be “significantly assigned” to Sars-CoV-2.
In a University of Birmingham article, lead author of the study, Professor Shamil Haroon, concludes: “This research confirms what patients have been telling doctors and policymakers throughout the pandemic, that the symptoms of Long Covid are extremely broad are”.
The researcher hopes that the results will lead to improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of Long Covid: “The symptoms we have identified should help doctors and guide developers to improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects of Covid-19”. Based on this, considerations could be made as to “how this burden of symptoms can best be managed.”
In addition to the specific symptoms, the British study also examined certain risk factors that can lead to Long Covid.
In fact, the results showed that women are significantly more likely to suffer from long-Covid symptoms than men (1.52 times more likely). The lead author of the study, Anuradhaa Subramanian, confirms in a report by the “University of Birmingham” that “characteristics such as biological sex and ethnicity” appear to play an important role in the question of risk factors. Accordingly, the study results state that “Black Afro-Caribbean ethnic groups” have an “increased risk” of long-Covid symptoms.
Further associations were found with socioeconomic status. According to the study, the risk of long-term Covid consequences increases “with increasing socio-economic disadvantage”. Health factors such as obesity or smoking also turned out to be multipliers for long-Covid symptoms.
A detailed overview of all groups of people examined and the frequency of long-Covid symptoms can be found here.
Anuradhaa Subramanian hopes that the identified risk factors will provide new insights into how Long Covid develops: “Our data analyzes on the risk factors are of particular interest because they give us information about what may be the cause of Long Covid or what contributes to the clinical picture.”
According to the scholarship holder, the fact that women in particular are affected by Long Covid symptoms can help to narrow down the focus of the investigation: “For example, women have a higher risk of autoimmune diseases.” Researchers asked “whether autoimmunity or other causes could explain the increased risk”.
The British study also found a link between pre-existing conditions and long-Covid symptoms.
For example, people who were already suffering from the lung disease COPD before their corona infection were affected 1.55 times more often by long-term effects of Covid than people without previous illnesses. Complaints such as prostate enlargement or erectile dysfunction also turned out to be a multiplier for Long Covid.
Surprising result: Apparently, mental illnesses also promote Long Covid: Study participants who already suffered from anxiety disorders or depression before their corona disease were found to have long-term corona consequences much more frequently after the infection.
According to patient advisor Jennifer Camaradou, people with pre-existing conditions would “certainly appreciate the new risk factor analysis.” In addition, the study “contributes significantly to better understanding the complexity and pathology of Long Covid,” according to the study’s co-author.