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BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — Covid-19 patients with five symptoms in the first week of infection are more likely to be “long-haulers” who battle symptoms for many months, according to new research.

Common long hauler Covid symptoms range from fatigue, headaches and breathlessness, to fever or stomach pain. In fact, one recent study shows that long-Covid patients have reported more than 200 symptoms. People are considered Covid long-haulers generally if they’re still experiencing symptoms 12 weeks after infection.

This latest finding by researchers at the University of Birmingham could help identify those most at risk of becoming Covid long-haulers. No diagnostic test currently exists for the burdensome condition.

“There is evidence the impact of acute Covid-19 on patients, regardless of severity, extends beyond hospitalization in the most severe cases, to ongoing impaired quality of life, mental health and employment issues,” says lead author Dr. Olalekan Lee Aiyegbusi, deputy director at the university’s Centre for Patient Reported Outcomes Research, in a statement. “People living with long Covid generally feel abandoned and dismissed by healthcare providers and receive limited or conflicting advice. More than one-third of the patients in one of the studies included in the review reported they still felt ill or in a worse clinical condition at eight weeks than at the onset of Covid-19.”

Researchers say the ten most common Covid symptoms are: fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle pain, cough, headache, joint pain, chest pain, diarrhea and altered smell or taste. People who rapidly develop five or more are most prone to long Covid – irrespective of age or gender.

Long hauler Covid continues well beyond initial infection, often lasting up to six months for sufferers.

“Neither the biological or immunological mechanisms of long Covid, nor the rationale for why certain people are more susceptible to these effects, are yet clear, limiting development of therapies,” says co-principal investigator Dr Shamil Haroon. “It is essential we act quickly to address these issues.”

A comparison with other coronaviruses also shows a similar disease trajectory in the longer term. The analysis found six months after hospital discharge, around a quarter of patients hospitalized with SARS and MERS had reduced lung function and exercise capacity. “The wide range of potential symptoms and complications patients with long Covid may experience highlights the need for a deeper understanding of the clinical course of the condition,” adds co-principal investigator Professor Melanie Calvert. “There is an urgent need for better, more integrated care models to support and manage patients with long Covid to improve clinical outcomes.”

The study is published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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