Long-term COVID affects up to 89% of hospitalized patients with coronavirus

Not all who overcome the coronavirus come back to their own health.  (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Not all who overcome the coronavirus come back to their own health. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

As many as nine in 10 people hospitalized with the coronavirus experience at least one symptom two months later, a report has revealed.

Not all who overcome the infection regain their own health, with some developing so-called long COVID, leading to complications such as brain fog, palpitations and even organ damage.

With the coronavirus only being identified at the end of 2019, long COVID is a relatively new phenomenon and doctors are unsure of how best to treat its symptoms.

In its second report on the subject, a team from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) analyzed more than 300 scientific papers from around the world.

Read more: Scientists understand the cause of the long COVID

He reported that among those admitted to hospital with complications from the coronavirus, between 50% and 89% had at least one symptom that persisted two months later.

Of those with a milder infection who did not require hospital care, 20% to 30% experience one or more symptoms around four weeks, while at least one in 10 (10%) still have a long COVID three months later.

Watch: What is a long COVID?

“This terrible disease can lead to long-term symptoms affecting the quality of people’s lives,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

“It is therefore vital that we do all we can to improve our understanding of long-term COVID and develop more effective care and treatment for those suffering from its impact.

“Today’s report, in addition to research funding of £ 20million ($ 27million) to support innovative projects and the establishment of clinics across the country, will all help improve understanding and long COVID treatment. “

A recent government report found that long-lasting COVID is more common in women, with women under 50 more than five times more likely to experience ‘incomplete recovery’, new disability or severe fatigue than their male counterparts .

NIHR results similarly suggest that long-term COVID is more prevalent in women and “young people (including children) than one would expect from acute COVID mortality.”

Early research suggests that the coronavirus is mild in four out of five cases, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in elderly patients.

Not all people who develop long-lasting COVID have had a severe episode of the infection itself, with some even being asymptomatic beforehand.

Read more: Ultra-marathon runner reveals how he handles long COVID

The NIHR team also reported that just under a third (30%) of coronavirus patients suffered from anxiety or depression one to three months after they allegedly cleared the infection.

It comes after doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital found that people who have headaches while infected with the coronavirus are more likely to experience depression across the board.

Of the 10% of coronavirus patients who still had symptoms three months later in the NIHR report, fatigue was the most common complaint.

“The limitations in the way the data is collected mean that this may not be a complete reflection and that we can see the estimates increase,” said Dr Elaine Maxwell, NIHR.

The government report found that half of its participants did not feel fully recovered seven months after catching the coronavirus, three quarters of which were tired.

The NIHR team also detected organ damage in hospitalized and out-of-hospital patients for the coronavirus.

In the government report, participants who required invasive ventilation were four times more likely to experience incomplete recovery.

Unable to muster the right cells and molecules to fight the invader, the bodies of those infected instead launch an entire arsenal of weapons - a misguided barrage that can wreak havoc on healthy tissue, experts have said.  (Getty Images)

The coronavirus can persist in tissues outside the respiratory tract or trigger inflammation that causes lasting damage. (Stock, Getty Images)

The NIHR team’s findings build on previous research which suggests that long COVID is a “umbrella term” made up of four syndromes – post-intensive care unit syndrome; long-term organ damage; post-viral syndrome; and an entirely new syndrome, which can be identified as a long COVID.

“Indeed, there has been recent evidence for a long time that COVID could be an active disease, with continuous inflammatory responses, persistent viral activity and / or blood clotting disorders,” the team wrote.

Read more: Doctor ‘gets so dizzy he can’t write letter’ due to long COVID

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer of England and NIHR Co-Director, added: “What we call ‘COVID long’ likely covers a range of syndromes, which will require different approaches.

“It is important to determine what exactly are the different elements of long COVID and then we can target research on those parts in order to prevent and treat it.”

Watch: Do Coronavirus Vaccines Affect Fertility?

In addition to reviewing scientific papers, the NIHR team also compiled a survey, completed by more than 3,000 patients with COVID along.

Four in five respondents (80%) said a long COVID affected their ability to work, while just over seven in ten (71%) said their family life had been affected.

More than a third (36%) said the condition affected their finances, while 32% “had not been able to access all the health services they thought they needed”.

“This second review takes us on from the first by focusing on a wide range of emerging evidence that simply did not exist six months ago,” said Candace Imison, of NIHR.

“With the results of our short survey of people living with long-term COVID, it provides a unique insight into the current state of affairs.”

Read more: Personal trainer, 23, hires caregiver due to lengthy COVID

Existing treatment guidelines encourage long COVID patients to go their own way, set “realistic goals” and join support forums.

The condition is officially diagnosed as “signs and symptoms that develop during or after an infection compatible with COVID-19, continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.”

“Long-term COVID management has so far focused on excluding other diagnoses, treating individual symptoms and rehabilitating, and access to services has been variable,” said Dr Maxwell .

“For the future, we need to offer a holistic and integrated approach rather than symptom-based symptom management.

“We recommend a rapid assessment of the different service models and the skill mix to help people with long-lasting COVID.”