Nearly 30% of patients battle long COVID. Study shows who’s most at risk

LOS ANGELES — Nearly 30% of people who recover from a coronavirus infection go on to experience “long COVID,” according to recent findings from UCLA Health. The findings show people who have severe COVID-19 illnesses and require hospitalization, diabetes, and are overweight or obese were more likely to develop the condition.

More research is unveiling the extent COVID-19 infection affects a person’s health. However, scientists are still trying to figure out what exactly is long COVID because it has a wide range of symptoms and factors affecting how long it takes to recover.

“This study illustrates the need to follow diverse patient populations longitudinally to understand the long COVID disease trajectory and evaluate how individual factors such as pre-existing co-morbidities, sociodemographic factors, vaccination status and virus variant type affect type and persistence of Long COVID symptoms,” says Dr. Sun Yoo, health sciences assistant clinical professor at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in a statement.

The team collected health information from 1,038 patients between April 2020 and February 2021. Participants were considered to have long COVID if they continued to have symptoms or developed new symptoms 1 to 3 months after infection or hospitalization. Of the 1,038, researcher report that 309 developed symptoms associated with long COVID.

The most frequent long COVID symptoms were fatigue (31%) and shortness of breath (15%). Sixteen percent of people who were hospitalized and later developed long COVID continued to have a loss of smell.

Being hospitalized, having diabetes, or having a high body mass index were linked to a greater risk of long COVID. Meanwhile, having Medicaid insurance or having an organ transplant was linked to a decreased risk.

“Studying outcomes in a single health system can minimize variation in quality of medical care. Our study also raises questions such as: Why were patients with commercial insurance twice as likely to develop long COVID than patients insured through Medicaid? Because persistent symptoms can be subjective in nature, we need better tools to accurately diagnose long COVID and to differentiate it from exacerbations of other emerging or chronic conditions. Finally, we need to ensure equitable access to outpatient long COVID care,” comments Dr. Yoo.

While ethnicity, old age, and socioeconomic status have been implicated in severe infection and dying from coronavirus, the current study found no association with long COVID.

The study is published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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