More than 200 COVID ‘long hauler’ symptoms identified, many lasting beyond 6 months

From brain fog to hallucinations to tremors to bladder issues, the list of COVID long-hauler symptoms goes on and on, study shows.

LONDON — “Long COVID” is still a concern for millions of recovering coronavirus patients, even as the pandemic appears to be winding down. Studies show the so-called “long hauler” patients are continuing to experience symptoms weeks and even months after their infections. Now, a new report is revealing just how many ailments these patients are battling after dealing with COVID-19. Researchers from University College London find COVID long haulers are reporting over 200 different symptoms following their illness.

The study finds these long-lasting symptoms affect 10 different organ systems and many of those problems are staying with patients for more than six months. The researchers, who also had COVID-19 as well, collected data from over 3,700 people in 56 countries. All of these participants experienced COVID-related symptoms between December 2019 and May 2020 and lingering issues in the months following this time.

The results show fatigue, worsening symptoms following physical or mental exertion, and brain fog are the most common problems patients face following a case of COVID-19. Overall, 203 long hauler symptoms were identified and the study authors tracked the 66 most common for a period of seven months.

Other symptoms participants experienced include visual hallucinations, tremors, itchy skin, menstrual cycle changes, sexual dysfunction, heart palpitations, bladder control issues, shingles, memory loss, blurred vision, diarrhea, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Memory, cognitive problems ‘most pervasive and persisting’

Although the study did not discover how common long COVID is, previous studies estimate that anywhere from 14 to 30 percent of coronavirus patients experience symptoms 12 weeks after their illness.

The new report finds, among COVID long haulers, the likelihood of symptoms lasting longer than eight months is a staggering 91.8 percent. Of the 3,762 participants in the study, 96 percent reported having lingering symptoms lasting longer than 90 days. Two in three still had COVID-related issues six months after their infection. Perhaps even more concerning, only 233 people reported that they had fully recovered from the virus.

“For the first time this study shines a light on the vast spectrum of symptoms, particularly neurological, prevalent and persistent in patients with long COVID,” says senior author Dr. Athena Akrami in a media release. “Memory and cognitive dysfunction, experienced by over 85% of respondents, were the most pervasive and persisting neurologic symptoms, equally common across all ages, and with substantial impact on work.”

“Headaches, insomnia, vertigo, neuralgia, neuropsychiatric changes, tremors, sensitivity to noise and light, hallucinations (olfactory and other), tinnitus, and other sensorimotor symptoms were also all common, and may point to larger neurological issues involving both the central and peripheral nervous system,” the UCL neuroscientist adds. “Along with the well-documented respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms, there is now a clear need to widen medical guidelines to assess a far wider range of symptoms when diagnosing long COVID. Furthermore, there are likely to be tens of thousands of long COVID patients suffering in silence, unsure that their symptoms are connected to COVID-19.”

‘Most comprehensive characterization’ of long hauler COVID symptoms so far

Study authors find nearly every single long-hauler COVID patient (98%) deals with fatigue following their coronavirus infection. Moreover, nine in 10 people struggle with worsening long hauler symptoms if they exert themselves too much. This has led to nearly half the survey (45%) needing to reduce their work schedules.

“While there has been a lot of public discussion around long COVID, there are few systematic studies investigating this population; hence relatively little is known about its range of symptoms, and their progression over time, the severity, and expected clinical course (longevity), its impact on daily functioning, and expected return to baseline health,” Dr. Akrami explains.

“In this unique approach, we have gone directly to ‘long haulers’ around the world in order to establish a foundation of evidence for medical investigation, improvement of care, and advocacy for the long COVID population. This is the most comprehensive characterization of long COVID symptoms, so far.”

The findings appear in the Lancet’s journal EClinicalMedicine.

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