Jan. 27 (UPI) -- More than half of adults hospitalized with COVID-19 had diminished lung function four months after they have recovered and returned home, a study published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open found.
A similar percentage of these patients also had mobility problems, including difficulty walking. And just over 17% had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder four months after hospital discharge, the data showed.
The findings highlight the "long-lasting physical and psychological" complications caused by the virus, the researchers said.
"Their real impact on public health is a major issue that needs to be investigated and clarified in the next months," study co-author Dr. Mattia Bellan told UPI.
"Recovered patients often complain of persistent symptoms for weeks or even months -- more specifically, fatigue and reduced tolerance to physical exercise are particularly common and may be paralleled by an objective reduction of physical performances," said Bellan, a professor of translational medicine at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Novara, Italy.
Although COVID-19 is "generally considered an acute illness," according to Bellan, several studies have documented long-term health complications among adults and children who have recovered from the virus.
Heart problems have also been observed in children infected with the new coronavirus.
For this study, Bellan and his colleagues followed 238 COVID-19 patients ranging in age from 50 to 71 years.
All of the patients in the study had been hospitalized with the virus in Italy in spring 2020, when the country had one of the largest outbreaks in the world, the researchers said.
The patients were evaluated for lung function, mobility and mental health status four months after they were discharged.
Lung function was less than 80% of normal range in 52% of patients and less than 60% in 16% of patients four months after discharge, the data showed.
In addition, 54% of the patients had limited mobility or difficulty walking, and performed below-normal on leg-function tests than expected for people at their age.
"This is a not negligible proportion of patients," Bellan said.
For most patients, "a certain degree of respiratory impairment may be present, contributing to physical impairment," he said.