There may be more than 200 symptoms of long Covid, a global study has suggested.
Still little is known about the often debilitating condition, which sees survivors left battling fatigue and headaches months after beating the initial infection.
But researchers are getting closer to understanding the vast range of symptoms linked with the condition and how long they last.
They say each long Covid patient suffers an average 56 different symptoms over the course of their recovery and the vast majority suffer them for at least three months.
University College London experts quizzed almost 4,000 ‘long haulers’ from around the world about their post-Covid experience.
Patients reported a mix of 203 symptoms, with participants experiencing an average of 56 different ones, on average. Most of them were struck down for at least three months.
Researchers found the symptoms affect 10 different organs, including the heart, lungs, brain and bowel.
The researchers found that the probability of still suffering from symptoms after becoming infected decreased over time (left). The prevalence of very mild and mild symptoms increased over time, while moderate symptoms plateaued after six months. But severe and very severe symptoms became less common over time (middle). People who recovered in 90 days of catching Covid found that their symptoms progressively improved, but for those who still had problems after 90 days found that their symptoms stopped improving after six months (right)
Fatigue was the most common symptom, affecting an estimated 535,000 people, followed by shortness of breath striking 397,000 and muscle ache hitting 309,000, according to the Office for National Statistics
Tiredness was the most common symptoms, with 98.3 per cent of the over-18s who were asked suffering from it.
This was followed by post-exertional malaise (89 per cent), which is the worsening of symptoms after physical or mental exercise, and brain fog (85.1 per cent).
WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19?
Most coronavirus patients will recover within a fortnight, suffering a fever, cough and losing their sense of smell or taste for several days.
However, evidence is beginning to show that the tell-tale symptoms of the virus can persist for weeks on end in ‘long haulers’ — the term for patients plagued by lasting complications.
Data from the Covid Symptom Study app, by King’s College London and health company Zoe, suggests one in ten people may still have symptoms after three weeks, and some may suffer for months.
Long term symptoms include:
- Chronic tiredness
- Raised heart rate
- Loss of taste/smell
- Kidney disease
- Mobility issues
- Muscle pains
For those with more severe disease, Italian researchers who tracked 143 people who had been hospitalised with the disease found almost 90 per cent still had symptoms including fatigue two months after first falling unwell.
The most common complaints were fatigue, a shortness of breath and joint pain – all of which were reported during their battle with the illness.
Others reported hallucinations, tremors, itchy skin, changes to the menstrual cycle, sexual dysfunction, heart palpitations, diarrhoea and tinnitus.
Not all of the reported symptoms are definitely going to be caused by long-Covid, as the study was merely based on responses from affected patients, so the experts said over-reporting was possible.
Experts found that 96 per cent of volunteers had symptoms for three months, while 91.8 per cent were still suffering after eight months.
People who recovered quicker had few symptoms — reaching a maximum of 11 at once — but people who had the condition for more than seven months went on to experience up to 17 symptoms at once.
The report — which was published today in the Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine journal — is the largest international study of long Covid patients.
The research team, that worked with UCL scientists, all have long-Covid and want clinical guidelines for assessing the condition to be widened because lots of patients ‘suffer in silence’.
The NHS lists 21 different symptoms for the condition, including tiredness, shortness of breath and chest pain.
Studies estimates that up to 30 per cent of people who have symptomatic Covid will still be suffering 12 weeks later.
Doctors can diagnose long-Covid by asking patients about their symptoms. There is currently no cure for the condition, so patients are given advice on how to self-manage their symptoms.
Dr Athena Akrami, senior author of the study, said: ‘While there has been a lot of public discussion around long Covid, there are few systematic studies investigating this population.
‘Hence relatively little is known about its range of symptoms, and their progression over time, the severity, and expected clinical course (longevity), its impact on daily functioning, and expected return to baseline health.
‘In this unique approach, we have gone directly to long haulers around the world in order to establish a foundation of evidence for medical investigation, improvement of care, and advocacy for the long Covid population.
‘This is the most comprehensive characterisation of long Covid symptoms, so far.’
NHS England has already created 89 clinics to offer specialist care and worked with the National Institue of Health Research to give £50million to fund research of the condition.
Meanwhile, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published guidance for doctors on how to manage the condition.