More than half of COVID-19 survivors experience symptoms of the virus six months after recovery, a new study finds.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University, in Center County, conducted a meta-analysis of previous studies of patients who said they still had symptoms months after the first positive test.
Symptoms such as cognitive impairment, anxiety and chronic fatigue were most commonly reported after recovery from the virus.
The teams say the implications are big for the future of healthcare, as it suggests millions will experience severe symptoms, and possibly years to come.
More than half of patients experience COVID-19 symptoms six months after recovery (long-term, right), equal to short- and medium-term totals after virus recovery
Cognitive impairment and difficulty concentrating are common neurological disorders Covid patients face after recovery. Many will also develop anxiety after recovering from the virus
More than half of people who recovered from COVID-19 still had chest abnormalities or needed extra help to breathe comfortably. Slightly less than half of the patients also reported some sort of functional impairment
The researchers, who published their findings Wednesday in JAMA Network Open, used 57 studies from 19 countries with more than 250,000 participants.
Among the participants, nearly 200,000 had been hospitalized due to complications caused by the virus.
Long Covid symptoms were broken down into short-term within a month of recovery; medium term, two to five months after recovery; and long-lasting, symptoms that are still felt six months after recovery.
The number of patients reporting symptoms at each stage remained constant.
Researchers found that 54 percent of patients experienced long-term Covid symptoms, almost similar to those short- or medium-term symptoms.
However, the number of symptoms reported after recovery was wide, as the virus appeared to affect people’s bodies differently.
Just under 40% of people recovering from COVID-19 will experience fatigue even after the virus has left their bodies
Therefore, the researchers split the symptoms into five different categories: general symptoms, mental disorders, mobility disorders, neurological disorders and respiratory disorders.
The most common neurological disorders were difficulty concentrating, memory impairment and cognitive impairment.
One study included in the analysis found that more than 40 percent of patients had cognitive impairment after recovery.
Overall, researchers found that one in four patients who recovered from Covid would experience some form of concentration problems.
The meta-analysis found that a median of 30 percent of COVID-19 survivors will have anxiety after recovery, with one study reporting a figure of about 70 percent, the most common mental health disorder.
The most common symptoms were respiratory illness, with a median of more than 60 percent of patients experiencing breast imaging abnormalities or requiring some assistance to breathe comfortably.
Fatigue, categorized as a common symptom, was also common, with a median of just under 40 percent of patients reporting it months after recovery.
All of these symptoms are the result of what medical professionals long term Covid, a mysterious condition that has baffled some experts.
However, how, or why exactly, for long Covid affects some is not yet known, making it difficult to treat or cure the condition.
A majority of the survivors included in the study were hospitalized, making the numbers most likely higher in the analysis’s findings. Pictured: A nurse treats a COVID-19 patient in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
The findings of Penn State’s meta-analysis show that the scope of long-term Covid is broader than many may think, with a total of 23 different symptoms associated with the virus and whose treatments fall across many medical fields.
The researchers believe that doctors from different disciplines should work together to treat patients and address all their possible symptoms after recovery.
‘Our results indicate that clinical treatment of [long Covid symptoms] will require a whole-patient perspective, including management tools such as virtual rehabilitation platforms and chronic care for post-acute COVID-19 symptoms coupled with management of pre-existing or new co-morbidities,” researchers wrote in the study.
The study does have limitations.
First, a vast majority of participants in all studies were hospitalized with the virus, meaning the average participant likely had a more severe case than the average Covid survivor.
Also, many studies focused on a specific comorbidity that others had not included, pushing the numbers higher because one study looking for that particular symptom could drive the number up.
This is especially evident in the respiratory disease category, where an abnormally high number of people report serious problems.