One in ten coronavirus survivors suffer ‘long Covid’ symptoms such as fatigue three months after beating the illness, government-funded review claims

  • National Institute for Health Research reviewed more than 300 scientific papers
  • Analysis found 10% of all survivors suffer lingering symptoms three months later
  • Most common issue was fatigue, followed by breathlessness and ‘brain fog’

One in 10 coronavirus patients suffer lingering symptoms months after the initial infection, a Government-funded report has found. 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) analysed more than 300 scientific papers from around the world as part of its second review into ‘Long Covid’.

It found around 10 per cent of survivors continue to suffer from symptoms at least three months after clearing the disease. 

The most common issue was fatigue, followed by breathlessness and ‘brain fog’, but more serious symptoms included organ damage, anxiety and depression.

The review found the more severe the initial illness was, the more likely patients were to suffer from Long Covid. For example, 60 to 90 per cent of people who were hospitalised with Covid experienced lingering symptoms two months later. 

But the NIHR said a ‘lack of consistency around the definition and measurement of Long Covid’ makes it difficult to pin down exactly what the condition is.

It added: ‘The review finds that there is a considerable variation in the range of symptoms that have been considered Long Covid by researchers. 

‘Used as an umbrella term, Long Covid may cover conditions which may have different causes.’

The NIHR said it believes Long Covid may include up to four different syndromes, with different underlying causes and treatment needs.

One in 10 coronavirus patients suffer lingering symptoms months after the initial infection, a Government-funded report has found (stock image)

A separate paper submitted to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) last month found more than 90 per cent of people continue to suffer symptoms at least three months after being hospitalised with Covid

They include post-ICU syndrome, health problems that remain after critical illness, long-term organ damage and post-viral syndrome, a sense of tiredness and weakness that lingers after the body fights a nasty infection.

The NIHR said there was some evidence to  that Long Covid might be an active disease, with continued inflammatory responses, lingering viral activity or blood clotting disorders.  

Dr Elaine Maxwell, review author and content lead at the NIHR Centre for Engagement and Dissemination said: ‘While this review goes some way to improving our understanding of different patterns of the disease, we need to know more about the prevalence of each and their causes. We also need more data on how long symptoms last.

‘It appears that at least 10 per cent of people are experiencing at least one Long Covid symptom three months after diagnosis, but limitations in the way data is collected means this may not be a comprehensive reflection and we may see estimates increase’. 

Candace Imison, Associate Director of Evidence and Dissemination at the NIHR Centre for Engagement and Dissemination (CED) added: ‘Like so much else relating to Covid-19, ‘Long Covid’ has quickly become part of our everyday language, yet so much about it is unknown – though research commissioned by NIHR and others is urgently being done to find out more.

‘This second review takes us on from our first by focusing on a wide range of emerging evidence that simply didn’t exist even six months ago. Together with findings from our short survey for people living with Long Covid, it provides a unique insight into the current state of play.

‘Through our themed reviews, we aim to act as knowledge brokers, working collaboratively with the public and experts to improve health and social care and inform policy and future research priorities. We hope this review will also be helpful for professionals, who are increasingly coming into contact with people with Long Covid, and for people experiencing enduring symptoms from Covid-19 as well as their families or employers.’

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
  • Breathlessness 
  • Raised heart rate
  • Delusions
  • Strokes
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of taste/smell
  • Kidney disease 
  • Mobility issues
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pains
  • Fevers 

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. 

Another study in Italy showed one in ten people who lose their sense of taste and smell with the coronavirus – now recognised as a key sign of the infection – may not get it back within a month.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, involved 187 Italians who had the virus but who were not ill enough to be admitted to hospital.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has said the longer term impacts of Covid-19 on health ‘may be significant’.

Support groups such as Long Covid have popped up online for those who ‘have suspected Covid-19 and your experience doesn’t follow the textbook symptoms or recovery time’.

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