Researchers identify most common symptoms of long COVID

A study zeroes in on 12 symptoms out of more than 200 that have been cited as persistent aftereffects of the SARS-CoV-2 infection.

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A study of nearly 10,000 Americans has identified the most common symptoms seen in long COVID-19 patients. The findings, published today in the journal JAMA, will help researchers distinguish patients likely to have long COVID from those whose symptoms stem from other causes.

More than 100 million Americans have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Of these, about 6% continue to suffer from a vast list of symptoms that have come to be called "long COVID." To date, patients and researchers have identified more than 200 such symptoms.

To try to sort out which symptoms are likely related to long COVID, the researchers compared symptoms of 8,646 adults who had been infected with COVID-19 at least six months earlier with 1,118 who had not been infected.  They found that 12 symptoms appeared most useful for identifying patients with long COVID:

  • post-exertion malaise
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • dizziness
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • heart palpitations
  • issues with sexual desire or capacity
  • loss of smell or taste
  • thirst
  • chronic cough
  • chest pain
  • abnormal movements

The study also found that people who were unvaccinated, had multiple infections or who had their first infection before the 2021 Omicron variant surged were more likely to have long COVID symptoms and more severe cases of long COVID.

The study is part of an effort by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) project called the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) initiative. Its goal is to understand why some people develop long-term symptoms after SARS-CoV-2 infection and how to detect, treat and prevent the disorder.

“Long COVID has been challenging to study and to define. The findings from this analysis will allow us to better understand what symptom profiles are associated with long COVID, and how to start classifying individuals by the types of symptoms they have. This will provide a measurement tool that can be used for studies of interventions to prevent and treat long COVID,” said Dr. Helen Chu.  She is an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, where she is principal site investigator for the RECOVER study. 

The UW School of Medicine is a member of the Pacific Northwest RECOVER consortium, which is led by Seattle’s Institute for Systems Biology and which also includes Swedish and Providence healthcare systems. 


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