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Landmark research sheds light on long COVID symptoms

Findings aim to serve as a foundation for scientific discovery and development of much-needed treatment options for long COVID

By Web Desk
May 26, 2023
A nurse in France who experienced smell loss from covid-19 undergoes tests. AFP/File
A nurse in France who experienced smell loss from covid-19 undergoes tests. AFP/File

A long-awaited study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has provided valuable insights into the symptoms of long COVID, a post-infection condition that can persist for months or even years after recovering from COVID-19.  

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, identified the 12 most common symptoms associated with long COVID, including post-exertional malaise, fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, heart palpitations, issues with sexual desire or capacity, loss of smell or taste, thirst, chronic cough, chest pain, and abnormal movements.

The findings aim to serve as a foundation for scientific discovery and the development of much-needed treatment options for long COVID. Dr Leora Horwitz, one of the study authors, emphasized the importance of defining long COVID beyond individual symptoms, noting that this approach will support further research and treatment design. The study analyzed data from over 9,700 adults, revealing that these 12 symptoms were most prevalent in individuals with long COVID. Additionally, smaller numbers of patients reported a range of other symptoms associated with the condition.

It is estimated that more than 100 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, with approximately 6% of them continuing to experience long COVID symptoms. The study further highlighted that long COVID was more common and severe in participants infected prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant, unvaccinated individuals, and those who experienced reinfection.

While the study provides crucial insights, some critics expressed concerns about the lack of specific definitions for certain symptoms, such as "brain fog" and "abnormal movements." They argue that precise terminology is necessary to guide treatment strategies effectively. However, the study authors acknowledged that the findings represent a first step in identifying common language for scientists working towards understanding the multifaceted impact of long COVID on the body.

Despite the limitations, the study's significance lies in its ability to shed light on the most prevalent symptoms of long COVID, offering hope to millions of Americans who continue to suffer from this condition. The NIH-funded research sets the stage for future investigations, with researchers expecting to enroll long COVID patients in clinical trials for potential treatments later this year. With ongoing efforts to unravel the mechanisms underlying long COVID and develop targeted interventions, there is optimism that relief and improved quality of life may be within reach for those affected by this chronic condition.