COLUMBIA, Mo. — While the COVID-19 pandemic has had no shortage of scary moments, one of the more terrifying aspects of the novel coronavirus throughout this pandemic has been consistent reports of “long COVID” among so many people. Long after the virus clears up and patients supposedly recover, countless people continue to experience debilitating symptoms like brain fog and breathing difficulties. Now, a new study is pinning down some of the key signs to look for when it comes to long COVID.
The wide array of symptoms connected to long COVID is literally over 200 now. This is why scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia were so surprised by their latest findings. They report people experiencing long-lasting effects from COVID-19 appear susceptible to just seven health symptoms up to a year post-infection.
The seven long COVID symptoms are:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Hair loss
- Chest pain
- Joint pain
- Shortness of breath
To reach these conclusions, the research team reviewed Oracle Cerner real-world data provided by electronic medical records containing anonymous patient information. The datasets encompassed 52,461 patients at 122 healthcare facilities across the United States, with study authors choosing to focus on the top 47 most commonly reported health symptoms of long COVID. Next, the team looked for any and all comparisons in the reported health symptoms, many of which are shared by other viral respiratory infections, among individuals in three distinct groups:
- People diagnosed with COVID-19 but do not have any common viral respiratory infections like influenza or pneumonia.
- People with common viral respiratory infections but do not have COVID-19.
- People who do not have COVID-19 or any other common viral respiratory infections.
“Despite an overwhelming number of long COVID symptoms previously reported by other studies, we only found a few symptoms specifically related to an infection from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” says corresponding author Chi-Ren Shyu, director of the MU Institute for Data Science and Informatics, in a university release. “Before we examined the data, I thought we would find an ample amount of the symptoms to be specifically associated with long COVID, but that wasn’t the case.”
All in all, study authors say this work could benefit ongoing efforts by fellow researchers to study the various impacts of COVID-19.
“Now, researchers will be able to better understand how SARS-CoV-2 may mutate or evolve by creating new connections that we may not have known about before,” Shyu explains. “Going forward we can use electronic medical records to quickly detect subgroups of patients who may have these long-term health conditions.”
Study co-author Adnan Qureshi, a professor of neurology in the MU School of Medicine and doctor of neurology with MU Health Care, adds that this work can give doctors some much needed guidance on what to ask and look for when examining a patient who may have symptoms of long COVID.
Prof. Qureshi says that these findings will also benefit researchers examining other aspects of COVID, for instance, the impact of the virus on the brain or the immune system. He explains that the very concept of long COVID first came to be after doctors began noticing many “survivors” of COVID-19 were “not necessarily normal anymore.”
“The survivors still have symptoms that are at times disabling and preventing them from going back to work or the activities of their daily life,” Prof. Qureshi concludes. “This is not because the COVID-19 infection is still active, but instead the infection has caused long-term consequences, or sequelae, in the form of a post-COVID syndrome that could persist for months or even years. Our research was able to identify long-term sequelae that are distinctive to COVID-19 and separate the post-COVID syndrome from other post-viral syndromes.”
The findings appear in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases.