For around one in 10 people who develop Covid-19, the symptoms don’t pass after a few weeks.
Dubbed ‘long Covid’, the issue is impacting the lives of many in the UK. Some have been hospitalised and still struggle with the effects months later, while others have dealt with the virus and a multitude of symptoms at home.
But research is only just beginning to scratch the surface on the effects of the virus long-term.
A new study from the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has identified a pattern of longer-term symptoms likely to be experienced by people hospitalised with the virus.
Fatigue, breathlessness, psychological distress – including problems with concentration and memory – and a general decline in quality of life are commonly reported in those who end up in hospital.
HuffPost UK has previously spoken to long Covid patients who dealt with the virus from home – and many still experienced symptoms months down the line.
For the study, researchers spoke to 100 people recovering from the virus, four to eight weeks after they were discharged from hospital. They were divided into two groups: those who had become critically ill and needed intensive care (32 people); and those who were treated on a ward without needing intensive care (68 people).
The results showed the most prevalent symptom was fatigue. More than 60% who had been treated on a ward reported fatigue, and one third described it as moderate or severe. For patients who had been in intensive care, 72% reported fatigue. Of those, more than half said it was moderate or severe.
The second most common symptom was breathlessness. People in both groups said they had feelings of breathlessness that had not existed before they became ill. This was higher in the group that had been in intensive care (66%) versus those who had been treated in a ward (43%).
The third most prevalent issue was neuropsychological symptoms. Almost a quarter of people who had been on a ward and just under a half of the people who had been in intensive care had some of the symptoms of PTSD.
“PTSD symptoms are a well-recognised component of post-intensive care unit syndrome caused by a variety of factors including fear of dying, invasive treatment, pain, delirium, inability to communicate, weakness, immobility, and sensory problems and sleep deprivation,” said researchers.
More than two thirds (69%) of patients in the intensive care group and just under half (46%) of the other group said their overall quality of life had deteriorated since becoming ill. The researchers say the rehabilitation needs of patients who did not require hospital care need to be further investigated.
The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Virology, provide the first detailed insight into problems facing patients recovering from Covid-19.
Dr Manoj Sivan, associate clinical professor at the University of Leeds and a consultant in rehabilitation medicine at Leeds General Infirmary, supervised the research, and pointed out that as Covid-19 is a new illness, there’s “very little information” on longer-term problems after people are discharged from hospital.
“The emerging evidence is that for some, the road to recovery may take months and it is vital specialist rehabilitation is on hand to support them,” he said.
Dr Stephen Halpin, senior research fellow and consultant, said the long-term health problems are similar to those experienced during the outbreaks of SARS and MERS, “but on a larger scale given the number of people affected”.
The findings are also similar to those from the Covid-19 Symptom Study in the UK, led by Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London, which found after three weeks of reporting symptoms, a group of people continue to experience fatigue, headaches, coughs, loss of smell, sore throats, delirium, and chest pain.