BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Long COVID — or the lingering side-effects from a coronavirus infection — often leaves patients with dozens of symptoms, including extreme fatigue. Now, a new study finds women who become COVID “long haulers” may never be able to exercise at the same pace again.
Some women have reported developing heart rate irregularities after their COVID-19 infection, impacting exertion and recovery from physical activity, according to a team from Indiana University Bloomington.
Persistent heart and lung problems in women with long COVID-19 can result in shortness of breath or joint and muscle aches. Researchers say men with COVID-19 appear to experience more severe symptoms and larger mortality rates, but this is the first time that scientists have found evidence women are struggling more after infection.
Previous studies have shown that women are outnumbering men 3-to-1 in seeking treatment for persistent symptoms following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
Women experiencing menopause more at risk?
In the new study, the team compared women walking for six minutes, tracking how long it took for their hearts to return to baseline. Prior to the walk test, researchers measured each participant’s resting heart rate, blood pressure, the amount of oxygen in the blood, and ratings-of-perceived shortness of breath following at least 10 minutes of rest sitting down.
The women then had to walk as far as possible during the test, without any other encouragement. Immediately following the test, the team again assessed post-exercise heart rate, oxygen in the blood, ratings-of-perceived shortness of breath, and ratings-of-perceived exertion.
Women who had a history of major lung disease, heart disease, or smoking tobacco products within the last six months did not take part in the experiment.
As a result of these findings, study authors believe women experiencing long COVID should receive a targeted rehabilitation program from their doctors, which focuses on building back lung performance. This is especially important for post-menopausal patients, as the researchers say these women have a higher rate of restrictive lung abnormalities as they age.
“Given the greater prevalence of age-related physical disability in women, as compared to men, our findings show that a targeted rehab program might be especially useful to women and other groups affected by persistent COVID-19 symptoms – thus promoting recovery and minimizing susceptibility for deteriorating physical condition,” study author Dr. Stephen Carter says in a media release.
The research is published in the journal Experimental Physiology.
South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.