Seven in 10 people who experienced being hospitalised with Covid-19 have still not fully recovered five months on, according to a UK-wide study into its lasting effects.
The Phosp-Covid study has been following the health of 1,077 people discharged from hospital between March and November 2020 and found that, five months later, one in five were considered to be disabled because of their long-term symptoms.
Nearly one in five (18%) had also been unable to return to work since becoming infected with the coronavirus and 20% experienced a health-related change in their occupational status.
Patients had nine persistent symptoms on average, with the 10 most common symptoms including muscle pain, fatigue, physical slowing down, impaired sleep quality, joint pain or swelling, limb weakness, breathlessness, pain, short-term memory loss, and slowed thinking.
More than one in four displayed symptoms of anxiety or depression and 12% had post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after five months.
The study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, was led by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre – a partnership between Leicester’s Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University.
Professor Chris Brightling, a professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Leicester, said: “While the profile of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 is disproportionately male and from an ethnic minority background, our study finds that those who have the most severe prolonged symptoms tend to be white women aged approximately 40 to 60 who have at least two long-term health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.”
The researchers classified the types of recovery into four different groups based on the participants’ mental and physical health impairments. One cluster group in particular showed impaired cognitive function – patients in this group tended to be older and male.
Professor Louise Wain, GSK/British Lung Foundation Chair in Respiratory Research at the University of Leicester, said: “When we looked at the symptom severity of patients five months after they were discharged from hospital, we found that in all but the mildest cases of persistent post-Covid symptoms, levels of a chemical called C-reactive protein [CRP], which is associated with inflammation, were elevated.
“From previous studies, it is known that systemic inflammation is associated with poor recovery from illnesses across the disease spectrum. We also know that autoimmunity, where the body has an immune response to its own healthy cells and organs, is more common in middle-aged women. This may explain why post-Covid syndrome seems to be more prevalent in this group, but further investigation is needed to fully understand the processes.”
Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England and co-lead for the NIHR, said: “We are in the foothills of our understanding of long-term effects of Covid. This research provides useful information on the debilitating effects of Covid some people are living with months after being hospitalised.
“It is important that we work out what exactly the various elements of what is currently termed ‘Long Covid’ are so we can target actions to prevent and treat people suffering with long term effects.”