Long Covid sufferers endure a wider set of symptoms than previously thought, according to new research published Monday in Nature Medicinethe latest study to shed light on the poorly understood and often debilitating condition affecting millions of people worldwide.
Hair loss and sexual dysfunction—which includes difficulties ejaculating and diminished libido—have joined fatigue, brain fog, loss of smell and shortness of breath on the wider list of Long Covid symptoms, according to the peer reviewed analysis of health records from 2.4 million people across England.
Patients with a recorded Covid infection—nearly 500,000, none of whom were hospitalized—reported experiencing 62 symptoms 12 weeks or longer after infection compared to those who had not contracted the coronavirus, the researchers found, even when accounting for other factors like age, smoking and other health conditions.
Symptoms spanned multiple organ systems and could generally be grouped under one of three umbrellas: respiratory symptoms like cough and shortness of breath; mental health and cognitive problems like anxiety, depression and brain fog; and a broader range of symptoms like pain, fatigue and rash.
The study also suggests that women, Black people, ethnic minority groups, smokers (and former smokers), people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and people who are overweight and obese are at greater risk of developing Long Covid, the researchers said.
People with a variety of health conditions including celiac disease, migraines, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression were also at greater risk of developing lingering symptoms, the researchers said.
What We Don't Know
What causes Long Covid. Experts do not know what causes Long Covid, which could in the long run turn out to be multiple conditions. Possible theories include blood clots, lingering virus or some form of immune response. Anuradhaa Subramanian, a research fellow at the Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham and the study's lead author, said the findings will help narrow researchers' focus when searching for what causes Long Covid. The fact that women, who are more likely to experience autoimmune disease, are at greater risk of Long Covid is of particular interest given the suspected role of the immune system, Subramanian said.
Reports of persistent or even novel symptoms lingering in the weeks and months after a Covid infection gradually emerged as more people were infected with the coronavirus. Such conditions are known to occur after other viral infections and over time researchers categorized the collection of ongoing symptoms as Long Covid. The terms are a catchall and precise medical definitions are not settled but researchers have come to understand that Covid can affect almost every system in the body. Evidence suggests vaccination may offer little protection against developing the condition and there are no proven treatments for those with Long Covid. In addition to experiencing sometimes debilitating symptoms, a Covid infection is also associated with an increased risk of death or chronic illness like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
1 in 5. That's how many Covid survivors may develop symptoms of Long Covid, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the US, there have been nearly 90 million cases of Covid-19 recorded, according to to CDC data. While this figure will include many people who have been infected more than once and more than a million have died from the disease, a rough estimate suggests some 18 million people could be suffering from Long Covid in the US
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