New Study: 1 in 5 Adult Survivors of COVID-19 Have Prolonged COVID

  • Long-term COVID-19 is more common than most people realize, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • As many as one in five adults under the age of 65 who have had COVID-19 have long-term COVID.
  • The research showed that common symptoms of prolonged COVID were breathing problems and pain in the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, or muscles.

    New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that prolonged COVID is more common than most people realize. The study, which was published earlier this week, found that one in five adults under the age of 65 has the condition.

    For the study, researchers analyzed the electronic medical records of nearly two million people and compared people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the first 18 months of the pandemic to those who had never had the virus. Researchers looked at 26 different symptoms that could be linked to long-term COVID and found that the most common long-term COVID symptoms were breathing problems and musculoskeletal pain, meaning pain in the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, or muscles .

    The researchers found that between 30 and 365 days after people were diagnosed with COVID-19, 38% developed one or more new health problems (compared to 16% of people who did not have COVID-19 but saw a doctor). In people 65 and older, 45% of those with COVID-19 developed new health problems, compared to 19% of those without the virus.

    The researchers found that the risk of long-term COVID symptoms in people who had COVID-19 aged 65 and older was 20% to 120% higher than in people who never had the virus. People ages 18 to 64 had up to a 110% increased risk of developing most symptoms of long-term COVID.

    “These findings are not surprising at all,” says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. “This is going to be the next phase of the pandemic. It’s pretty clear that prolonged COVID is real. A significant portion of people are affected and for a significant period of time.”

    While it’s important to note that COVID-19 vaccination status was not considered in the CDC’s analysis, another large study released Wednesday says your risk of prolonged COVID is only reduced by about 15% if you he is vaccinated. However, the study showed that being vaccinated appears to reduce the risk of lung disorders and blood clots.

    Vaccination status aside, there’s a lot scientists don’t yet know about prolonged COVID in particular. But, there are some answers. This is what the experts know right now.

    What is long COVID, again?

    Long-term COVID, also known as post-COVID-19 conditions, is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of new, recurring, or ongoing health problems that people experience after first becoming infected with SARS- CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 19, according to the CDC.

    There is no test for long-term COVID, and symptoms can overlap with those of other health problems, making the condition difficult to diagnose, according to the CDC.

    What are some of the possible long-term effects of COVID-19?

    There is a long list of potential prolonged covid symptoms. According to the CDC, they typically include:

    • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
    • Symptoms that worsen after physical or mental exertion
    • Fever
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Cough
    • Chest pain
    • Racing or pounding heart
    • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
    • sleeping problems
    • Dizziness when standing up (lightheadedness)
    • Feelings of pins and needles
    • Change in smell or taste
    • depression or anxiety
    • Diarrhea
    • Stomach ache
    • Joint or muscle pain
    • Rash
    • Changes in menstrual cycles

      But these can be symptoms of a variety of other health conditions, which complicates matters, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It’s important to really delineate which symptoms are really disabling and interfere with activities of daily living versus people who have a cough that persists after infection,” she says. “A lot of the long COVID studies don’t use control groups, so you can’t really determine the true prevalence of some of the symptoms.”

      Why are older people more at risk for prolonged COVID?

      The study didn’t explore this, but Dr. Russo speculates it’s probably because older people are at higher risk for severe forms of COVID-19. “If you’re asymptomatic or have mild illness that doesn’t result in hospitalization, it in no way excludes you from the possibility that you could develop prolonged COVID,” he says. “But most studies suggest that the more severe the illness, the higher the risk of developing prolonged COVID.”

      People over the age of 65 were at higher risk of developing neurological and mental health conditions, the CDC study found. “Post-COVID conditions that affect the nervous system are of particular concern because these conditions may lead to early entry into support services or the investment of additional resources in care,” the researchers wrote.

      How long do persistent symptoms last after COVID-19 and before it is considered prolonged COVID?

      There have been different definitions for this, Dr. Russo says, noting that some define someone with prolonged COVID as being at least 30 days since their COVID diagnosis and having symptoms, while others go as long as 90 days.

      (For what it’s worth, the CDC says long-term COVID can be diagnosed when at least four weeks have passed after someone was infected with COVID-19.)

      “We need a uniform definition for study purposes so that we can define a population and move forward,” says Dr. Russo.

      As for how long COVID symptoms can last, Dr. Russo says it really depends. “Some people have had symptoms for over a year at this point,” he says.

      If you have unusual symptoms and suspect you have COVID for a long time, Dr. Russo recommends doing your research to find a specialty center near you that treats these conditions. “There is an increasing number of post-COVID recovery centers,” he says. And, if he can find a current study of people with his prolonged COVID symptoms, he suggests trying to be included. “Not only will it allow you to be part of a solution, but you can also be at the forefront of some treatment modalities,” he says.

      This article is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While it is our goal to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit the online resources provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WHOand you local public health department to be informed of the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.

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