Largest international study identifies over 200 long COVID symptoms

Researchers have been tracking long COVID symptoms in patients from around the world and over 200 have been reported.

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Scientists from University College London (UCL) conducted the largest international study to identify the possible symptoms of long COVID and they’ve found over 200 symptoms that's affecting 10 of the body’s organ systems.

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They surveyed almost 4,000 members from an online COVID support group called Body Politic, who reported symptoms between December 2019 and May 2020. The participants were from 56 different countries, making this the largest international study on long COVID symptoms.

Reported symptoms

Participants reported a whopping 203 different symptoms, 66 of which lasted for a seven-month period. The main symptoms that were recorded were fatigue, post-exertional malaise, and cognitive dysfunction—also known as brain fog. The other symptoms included visual hallucinations, itchy skin, changes in menstrual cycles, sexual dysfunction, heart palpitations, and tinnitus.

Around 2,454 respondents experienced an average of 13.8 symptoms that lasted longer than six months. 22% said they were unable to work and either got fired, took a prolonged sick or disability leave, or quit their jobs. A further 45% reduced their number of work hours.

National screening programme

Given the dire results of their study, researchers are now calling for a national screening programme to find better methods to help those affected.

As of now, clinical guidelines on long COVID are largely based on cardiovascular tests and respiratory rehabilitation, however researchers are also asking that these guidelines be broadened to include more symptoms and issues. Athena Akrami, author of the study and a neuroscientist at UCL said:

A lot of post-Covid clinics in the UK have focused on respiratory rehabilitation. It’s true that a lot of people have shortness of breath, but they also have a lot of other problems and types of symptoms that the clinics need to provide a more holistic approach to.

Taking a holistic approach to long COVID is even more crucial since researchers identified that, on average, nine of the organs were affected by this post-COVID complication. Akrami added:

This is important for medical researchers who are looking for the underlying [disease mechanisms], and also for doctors that provide care and treatment because it suggests they should not just be focusing on one organ system.

The study was peer-reviewed and published in Lancet’s journal EClinicalMedicine.

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