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Getting COVID-19 is bad enough. What’s worse is when you don’t come through it unscathed.
Many COVID-19 sufferers end up with symptoms that last long after the virus has cleared their bodies. I know people who’ve had COVID-19 who weeks or months later complain of having lingering fatigue, no sense of taste or smell, brain fog and shortness of breath.
“COVID toes” was even a symptom for some.
Now that COVID-19 has been around for a couple of years, researchers are better able to investigate this phenomenon of post-COVID symptoms often referred to as “long COVID.” And they’re discovering that the phenomenon may lead to an even longer list of symptoms than previously thought…
Long COVID’s long list of symptoms
A team of researchers analyzed the health records of 486,149 people in the U.K., all with prior infection with SARS-CoV-2, between January 2020 and April. They also reviewed the health records of 1.9 million people with no indication of infection after matching for other clinical diagnoses.
According to the results, patients with a primary care record of SARS-CoV-2 infection reported 62 symptoms much more frequently 12 weeks after initial infection than those who hadn’t contracted the virus.
The most commonly reported symptoms included anosmia (loss of sense of smell), sneezing, difficulty ejaculating, shortness of breath while at rest, fatigue, pleuritic chest pain, hoarseness and fever.
Additionally, two more symptoms joined the list of most commonly reported symptoms: hair loss and loss of libido.
Brain fog, a symptom commonly associated with long COVID, was one of the 62 symptoms reported, but it didn’t occur as frequently as many of the other symptoms.
“This research validates what patients have been telling clinicians and policymakers throughout the pandemic, that the symptoms of long COVID are extremely broad and cannot be fully accounted for by other factors such as lifestyle risk factors or chronic health conditions,” says Dr. Shamil Haroon, a professor at the University of Birmingham and senior author on the study.
“The symptoms we identified should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers to improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects from COVID-19, and to subsequently consider how this symptom burden can be best managed,” Haroon adds.
Who gets long COVID
Besides identifying a wider set of long COVID symptoms, the study tried to identify key demographic groups and behaviors that put people at increased risk of developing the condition. Their results suggest that…
- Females, people within the 18 to 30 age group, or those of Black, mixed, Native American, Middle Eastern or Polynesian ethnic group origin are at a greater risk of developing long COVID.
- People from low socioeconomic backgrounds, smokers and people who are overweight or obese had higher odds of reporting persistent long COVID symptoms.
- People with certain pre-existing illnesses also were more likely to have these lingering symptoms. The largest associations were found in those with COPD, benign prostatic hyperplasia, fibromyalgia, anxiety, erectile dysfunction, depression, migraine, multiple sclerosis and celiac disease.
“Our data analyses of risk factors are of particular interest because they help us to consider what could potentially be causing or contributing to long COVID,” says Anuradhaa Subramanian, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham and lead author of the paper.
Playing the long game against COVID
Is there any way to protect yourself from long COVID? The best defense, of course, is not to get COVID-19 in the first place. But if you did, your focus now should be on what may help you get through long COVID if you’re presenting any of the symptoms.
Here are a few places to start:
Consider supplementing to raise your vitamin D levels. During the pandemic, the vitamin took the spotlight because experts on the frontlines were discovering that the majority of patients hospitalized were vitamin D deficient.
Another reason: Vitamin D helps tamp down inflammation. Previous research linked COVID’s damage during and post-infection to full-body inflammation.
Get your thyroid checked. In spring 2020, 15 percent of the COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Policlinico Hospital of Milan in Italy showed altered thyroid hormone caused by a number of factors, including thyroid inflammation.
According to a study presented by the Endocrine Society, one-third of study participants still showed signs of thyroid inflammation after three months, despite their thyroid function being normalized. They are following these patients to see if this ongoing inflammation will lead to permanent thyroid problems.
If that happens it could be added to the growing list of long COVID symptoms and might help explain hair loss and loss of libido.
Support your mitochondria: According to Irina Petrache, MD, chief of the Division of Pulmonary at National Jewish Health, there were few common characteristics among people getting long COVID.
“We see patients who are young and old, those with mild and severe cases of COVID and those who are active and healthy as well as some with pre-existing conditions.”
Even the “commonalities” identified above from the recent study are quite varied.
Looking at the cellular level, Dr. Petrache’s researchers found that people living with long COVID symptoms have mitochondria that no longer function properly — and that impacts not only dysfunction in muscle tissues, but also pulmonary and neurological systems as well.
Pyrroloquinoline quinone is a nutrient that supports mitochondria.
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Hair and libido loss join fatigue and brain fog among wider list of Long Covid symptoms — University of Birmingham
Symptoms and risk factors for long COVID in non-hospitalized adults — Nature Medicine