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New Study Explains Why COVID-19 Survivors Experience Prolonged Illness

A study published in the BMJ journal reveals that approximately 10 percent of people experience prolonged illness after surviving COVID-19.

The study, titled, ‘Long covid could be four different syndromes, a review suggests,’ notes that there is a wide range of recurring symptoms experienced by patients, regardless of whether they were hospitalized, affecting the respiratory system, the brain, cardiovascular system and heart, the kidneys, the gut, the liver, and the skin.

Study author, Elisabeth Mahase, said these symptoms range in intensity and duration and do not necessarily present in a linear or sequential manner.

An earlier study, also published in the journal and titled, ‘Management of post-acute COVID-19 in primary care,’ notes that management of the viral infection after the first three weeks had been based on limited evidence.

It noted that many patients who experienced prolonged illness after their COVID-19 infection recovered spontaneously (if slowly) with holistic support, rest, symptomatic treatment, and a gradual increase in activity.

The researchers, however, said indications for specialist assessment included clinical concern along with respiratory, cardiac, or neurological symptoms that are new, persistent, or progressive.

Post-acute COVID-19 (‘long covid’) seems to be a multisystem disease, sometimes occurring after a relatively mild acute illness whose clinical management requires a whole-patient perspective, the scientists say.

The researchers describe ‘long covid’ as “the name commonly used to explain lasting effects” of the pandemic.

They based their findings on the experience of patients who experienced delayed recovery from an episode of COVID-19 that was managed in the community or in a standard hospital ward.

“Broadly, such patients can be divided into those who may have serious sequelae (such as thromboembolic complications) and those with a non-specific clinical picture, often dominated by fatigue and breathlessness,”

says Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.

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The authors define post-acute COVID-19 as extending beyond three weeks from the onset of first symptoms; and chronic COVID-19 as extending beyond 12 weeks.

The scientists warn that around 10 percent of patients who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus remain unwell beyond three weeks, and a smaller proportion for months.

Comparatively, the authors said, a recent U.S. study found that only 65 percent of people had returned to their previous level of health between 14 and 21 days after testing positive for the virus.

The authors warned that, for many patients, including young ones who never required hospitalization, COVID-19 has a devastating second act.

Many are dealing with symptoms weeks or months after they were expected to recover, often with puzzling new complications that can affect the entire body, such as severe fatigue, cognitive issues and memory lapses, digestive problems, erratic heart rates, headaches, dizziness, fluctuating blood pressure, and, in some cases, even hair loss.

What is surprising to doctors is that many such cases involve people whose original cases weren’t the most serious, undermining the assumption that patients with mild COVID-19 recover within two weeks.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Survivors Reveal A Symptom That Has Refused To Go Away Weeks After They Were Discharged

Doctors call the condition “post-acute COVID” or “chronic COVID,” and sufferers often refer to themselves as “long haulers” or “long-COVID” patients.

Reiterating the seriousness of the situation, Oxford researcher Greenhalgh said, “Usually, the patients with bad disease are most likely to have persistent symptoms, but  COVID-19 doesn’t work like that.”

For many such patients, she said, “The disease itself is not that bad,” but symptoms like memory lapses and rapid heart rate sometimes persist for months.

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