It is called post-COVID-19 syndrome or "long COVID" and it remains the great enigma of the pandemic. Focused on controlling successive waves of coronavirus, doctors are also concerned about the sequelae that patients carry with them for a long time afterwards. A compilation of research shows 55 persistent effects after suffering from the disease.
According to the latest data, 8 out of 10 patients have at least one persistent symptom after having had severe COVID. These effects can last from 14 days to 16 weeks after infection.
The study, a sum of 19,000 investigations into this issue, reveals 55 long-term sequelae of COVID. The data collected on a total of 47,910 people aged 17 to 87 add useful information for doctors in dealing with the effects of COVID-19, which are still unknown.
A study in Wuhan published in The Lancet had already revealed that 76% of patients admitted to hospital had at least one symptom up to 6 months later. A phenomenon which, moreover, affected women more. Among the most frequent symptoms were fatigue, muscle weakness and sleeplessness, as well as anxiety or depression.
Furthermore, the SARS and MERS coronavirus also caused sequelae in patients that coincided with those of COVID-19. These included pulmonary disorders months after infection, and respiratory dysfunction which, in 28% of patients, persisted up to two years later. These coronavirus of the same family as COVID also left psychological sequelae such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Thirty-three percent of those infected with MERS suffered pulmonary fibrosis, as well as long-term stress and anxiety.
The sum of studies results in a list with 55 persistent effects of COVID, among which 6 are the most frequent: fatigue (58%), headache (44%), attention deficit disorder (27%), hair loss (25%), dyspnea (24%) or anosmia (24%). In addition, other frequent persistent symptoms are:
The study also highlights that 34% of the patients showed abnormalities on chest X-rays, and many of them had elevated blood markers that could be used as prognostic for the disease. In addition, 25% of the patients suffered hair loss. In fact, telogen effluvium has been proven to be a frequent coronavirus sequela that lasts about three months and can cause emotional distress and trigger neurological diseases.
Another frequent disorder associated with coronavirus is the loss of taste and smell, which is already recognized as a previous symptom of the infection. Most of those infected recover within a maximum of four weeks, but in 20% of cases this takes up to 4 months.
The way coronavirus enters the nervous system also causes a series of neurological sequelae of particular concern. These include those arising from the inflammation and hypercoagulation that occurs in the development of the disease, but also neurocognitive disabilities that cause difficulty in reading or speaking, for example. Neuropsychiatric problems are considered a high-risk factor for mortality due to COVID-19, but may also be one of the consequences of the disease.
There is no clear diagnosis of long COVID so far and there are still many doubts about these sequelae. Health authorities are trying to find out what these symptoms are, who is most likely to suffer from them and how treatments can be advanced to cure them or shorten their duration. But more studies are required for this.
For example, it is not yet known whether the psychological sequelae are caused directly by COVID-19 or whether they are the consequence of the stress caused by the pandemic or by the intubation and treatments. Experts point out the urgency of having preventive measures, rehabilitation techniques and clinical management strategies to address the long-term effects as soon as possible.
They also call for multidisciplinary teams with complete patient perspectives to address the long-term effects of COVID-19, with follow-up of the duration and treatment of each symptom, and monitoring to establish whether these consequences complicate previous pathologies or are a continuation of COVID-19 itself, with the capacity to trigger other diseases in the future.