Long COVID is not a single condition and should not be treated as one, scientists urge.
People suffering from long COVID reported multiple symptoms, including, tiredness, headaches, muscle and joint aches, loss of taste and smell among a variety of others.
What’s more, the study revealed that long-term symptoms from the virus can also change over time.
Long COVID refers to symptoms that continue for over four weeks since a person was first infected.
In the UK, it is estimated that two million people are living with long COVID.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 11 percent of those who contracted COVID-19 are now experiencing symptoms of long COVID.
Researchers studied persistent symptoms experienced by patients with COVID-19 both at three- and six-month intervals.
Just under 6000 patients took part, with just over 4,500 of then testing positive for the virus and just under 1,500 testing negative.
Of the people who tested positive, 72 percent reported having minimal symptoms, while 17 percent said they felt tiredness, suffered from headaches and muscle and joint aches.
Only five percent of those who lost their sense of taste and smell also suffered from tiredness, headaches and muscle and joint aches, while six percent felt other symptoms.
Most long COVID studies have focused primarily on the individual symptoms without considering clusters or patterns.
Many also did not have comparison groups and focused only on data captured by providers during clinic visits, rather than directly from patients.
Study author Dr. Kari Stephens, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Medical Education at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said: “This study also gives providers information about how long-term outcomes for COVID may look and present in patients over time.
“This study will help us understand how we need to treat long COVID over time, in very specific ways for each patient depending on how their symptoms present.”
During the study people were able to report symptoms directly, regardless of whether or not they received medical care, making the research unique to others.
The nearly 6,000 participants began self-reporting symptom data via detailed surveys beginning in December 2020 and were followed for up to 18 months.
This part of the study concluded in September 2022.
Dr. Michael Gottlieb is the vice chair of research for emergency medicine at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and the study’s lead author.
He said: “While it is becoming increasingly clear that long COVID is not a singular condition, having data showing several distinct, symptom-defined phenotypes is a strong step towards developing evidence-driven approaches to treat the millions of people who continue to experience lingering symptoms.”
Dr. Stephens hopes that the study will help determine funding and policy support for long COVID programs.
She added: “We don’t want to forget about long COVID as we all go back to ‘normal’.
“New long COVID cases are occurring every day.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Saba Fatima and Asad Ali
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