Long COVID: The Impacts of This Chronic Condition
A recent study conducted in the U.K. has shed new light on the significant impacts of long COVID, a chronic condition caused by the COVID-19 virus, on patients. This condition affects thousands of people and is characterized by a persistent set of symptoms that linger after their initial COVID-19 infection. The debilitating nature of long COVID is far more severe than is often realized by healthy individuals.
Functional Impairment and Lower Quality of Life
Researchers from University College London (UCL) and the University of Exeter surveyed nearly 4,000 U.K. adults who had been referred to long COVID clinics. They found that functional impairment – affecting their ability to work, keep up their homes, and enjoy leisure activities – was generally worse among such patients than it was in those who had experienced a stroke. It was also found to be similar to that of Parkinson’s disease patients.
Fatigue and Other Symptoms
The driving factor behind functional impairment and low quality of life is fatigue, which is generally worse than that experienced by those who have end-stage kidney disease or patients with both cancer and anemia. Other symptoms that impact quality of life include breathlessness, anxiety, depression, and brain fog.
Symptoms of Long COVID
While definitions of long COVID, or post-acute sequelae of COVID (PASC), may vary, it is generally defined as new symptoms that occur with COVID-19 infection or develop shortly thereafter, and last for twelve or more weeks. True long COVID, many experts say, is best defined as a chronic fatigue syndrome-like condition that develops after a COVID infection, similar to other post-viral syndromes that can occur after an infection with herpes, Lyme disease, and Ebola, among others.
The Trouble with Long COVID
The trouble for patients and clinicians alike is the vast array of other symptoms that can occur with the condition. More than 200 have been identified, from lingering cough and ear numbness to a sensation of “brain on fire” and new erectile dysfunction.
Impacts on Daily Life
Half of patients reported missing work one or more days the previous month because of symptoms, and a fifth reported missing between three and four weeks of work during the previous month. Study participants also reported dismally low health-related quality of life, with scores similar to those of patients with advanced cancer. Quality of life is generally better among stage 4 lung cancer patients than it is among long-COVID patients, the authors wrote.
Need for Further Research and Support
While up to 17% of COVID-19 patients go on to develop the post-viral illness, long COVID is still poorly understood, according to Dr. Henry Goodfellow, a general practitioner, professor at UCL, and lead author of the study. William Henley, a professor of medical statistics at the University of Exeter and another author of the study, noted that while long COVID can leave people more fatigued and with worse quality of life than those with some cancers, “support and understanding is not at the same level.” “We urgently need more research to enable the development of evidence-based services to support people trying to manage this debilitating new condition,” he said.
Discussion with Primary Care Provider
Those who suspect they have long COVID should discuss their symptoms with their primary care provider. A list of long-COVID clinics can be found online where individuals can seek further help and advice.
Overall, long COVID can be a significant and debilitating condition that can affect a patient’s functional ability, work, leisure, and social activities, and their overall quality of life. Further research and support are urgently needed to help individuals experiencing this debilitating condition.