Long COVID sufferers are experiencing a broader array of symptoms than previously thought, including hair loss and sexual dysfunction, as well as fatigue, breathing difficulties and brain fog, according to new research. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
July 25 (UPI) -- Long COVID sufferers are experiencing a broader array of symptoms than previously thought, including hair loss and sexual dysfunction, as well as fatigue, breathing difficulties and brain fog, according to new research.
The British study, published Monday in Nature Medicine, found that patients with previous infection from SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus reported 62 symptoms much more frequently 12 weeks after initial infection than did people with no history of COVID-19.
The research also identified key demographic groups and behaviors that seem to suggest which people are at increased risk of developing long COVID, including women, younger people, and individuals of Black, mixed or other ethnic groups.
Also, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, smokers, and people who are overweight or obese, as well as individuals with a wide range of pre-existing health conditions, were associated with persistent post-COVID infection symptoms.
The research validates what patients have been telling clinicians throughout the pandemic -- that the prolonged symptoms of long COVID "are extremely broad and cannot be fully accounted for by other factors, such as lifestyle risk factors or chronic health conditions," Dr. Shamil Haroon, the study's senior author, said in a news release.
For the study, researchers from the University of Birmingham led a team of clinicians and researchers across England, analyzing the electronic health records of 2.4 million people in the United Kingdom.
Data were taken between January 2020 and April 2021 from 486,149 people with prior COVID-19 infection and 1.9 million people with no indication of it.
Looking at non-hospitalized patients, the team of researchers found patterns of long COVID symptoms that tended to group into respiratory symptoms, mental health and cognitive problems, and then a broader range of symptoms as self-reported by people experiencing persistent health problems after COVID-19 infection.
The scientists found the most common symptoms included loss of sense of smell, shortness of breath, chest pain and fever, a news release said. Other symptoms included amnesia, apraxia (the inability to perform familiar movements or commands), bowel incontinence, erectile dysfunction, hallucinations and limb swelling.
Haroon, an associate clinical professor in public health at the University of Birmingham, said the researchers' expectation is that the identified range of symptoms should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers to improve the assessment of patients who have long-term effects from COVID-19
The results also could help find ways to better manage the heavy symptom burden, he said.
The University of Birmingham's ongoing work is being funded as part of a British government-funded research project to explore the underlying causes of long COVID and improve the care and treatment of non-hospitalized patients.
The National Institutes of Health announced its own initiative to study long COVID in February 2021.
In late June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released national survey results that indicated more than 40% of adults in the United States have had COVID-19 and nearly 1 in 5, or 19%, of them still are having symptoms of "long COVID."
The CDC notes that since July 2021, long COVID can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.