In a new study published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases, experts have concluded that long-term COVID is not just a single condition, but rather a spectrum of persistent symptoms with different manifestations that change over time. This discovery has huge implications for the millions of people around the world suffering from the long-term effects of COVID-19.
The researchers analyzed data from nearly 6,000 participants, of whom 4,504 were positive for the virus and 1,459 were negative. Most of the participants (about 2,000) were from King County and were recruited through the University of Washington School of Medicine.
The study identified four main categories of symptoms that people who tested positive for COVID-19 exhibit. Seventy-two percent reported minimal symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, muscle or joint pain. In 17% of people, these symptoms were more severe. A smaller subgroup of 5% also reported loss of taste and smell. Finally, in the remaining 6%, symptoms occurred in many body systems.
Study co-author Dr. Kari Stevens emphasized the clinical significance of these results, noting that they show how long-term symptoms of the virus change over time.
One of the unique features of this study was that it directly involved patients who could report their symptoms whether or not they received medical care. This provided firsthand data and a better understanding of how long-term COVID manifests itself in patients.
Dr. Stevens noted that most previous studies of long-term COVID focused on individual symptoms and did not consider clusters or patterns of symptoms. They also relied on data provided by health care providers rather than patient reports. Therefore, this study has great potential to improve the treatment of long-term COVID by allowing individualized treatment plans to be formed based on symptom presentation.
The study’s lead author, Michael Gottlieb, vice chair of emergency medicine research at Rush University Medical Center, emphasized the importance of these findings in developing evidence-based approaches to treating long-term COVID.
Dr. Stevens warned against losing sight of the problem of long-term COVID as society begins to return to “normalcy.” She reminded us that new cases of long-term COVID occur every day.