Half of people who survived COVID-19 hospitalization still suffered symptoms four months later, a new study finds.
Over 50 percent of survivors’ lungs still weren’t functioning at full capacity months after discharge, and 17 percent had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to Italian research published Wednesday.
Sometimes called ‘long-haulers’ or sufferers of ‘long covid,’ the ranks of people who continue to suffer months after they test negative for coronavirus grow by thousands a day – and will only continue to swell as half a million new cases are reported worldwide every 24 hours.
A growing body of research shows that survivors struggle with fatigue, bizarre neurological symptoms like stutters, or just feel ‘off’ for months.
But the latest study finds the tell-tale symptoms of COVID-19 itself linger for some, underscoring health experts’ fears that coronavirus may well have a chronic form that burdens global health for years or decades to come.
Four months after discharge from hospitals, 17% of COVID-19 patients reported PTSD symptoms). Nearly six percent of people who had trouble breathing during their illnesses still had the symptom four months later (yellow)
Researchers at Università del Piemonte Orientale in Novara, Italy, studied 238 COVID-19 patients from Northern Italy who were hospitalized indicating most of them had ‘severe’ forms of infection between March and June 2020.
Abnormal lung functioning, poor physical fitness level and post-traumatic stress were common even four months after discharge, the study found.
Up to six percent of patients still had the same symptoms from the ‘acute’ stage of the infection four months later.
‘Overall, these findings suggest that many patients experience a slow recovery after the acute phase of COVID-19,’ wrote the authors.
More than half of the patients in the study had reduced ‘diffusing lung capacity for carbon monoxide,’ the authors wrote in the study, published in JAMA Network Open on January 27.
In other words, their lungs were struggling to properly infuse their blood with vital oxygen and sift out carbon dioxide, which can build up and become toxic.
This critical gas exchange process was still off-balance four months after more than half of the COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals, leaving them short of breath.
According to the researchers, more studies will be needed to check if these results indicate damage to lung tissues.
Nearly 50 percent of patients also had varying levels of physical impairments four months on.
Their capacity for physical activity had fallen so low that these patients had trouble performing simple day-to-day tasks such as walking and standing up from a chair ini fitness tests.
Researchers believe that lung damage and muscle weakness caused by coronavirus could underlie the patients’ poor physical fitness.
Psychological damage was also common among the long-suffering COVID-19 survivors.
Seventeen percent of the patients showed symptoms of post traumatic stress and reported nightmares and intrusive thoughts.
However, researchers noted that one of the limitations of the study was that they didn’t check for other aspects of stress such as sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.
While elderly people make up a the largest share of people who become severely iill or die of COVID-19 it is not just seniors who face long recoveries.
‘While older patients may have an increased risk for severe disease, young survivors, including those physically-fit prior to SARS-CoV-2 infection, have also reported symptoms months after acute illness,’ says the CDC.
Doctors and researchers are only beginning to understand the long-term impact of COVID-10.
The CDC says we are learning that many organs besides the lungs are affected by COVID-19 and there are many ways the infection can affect someone’s health.
The most common symptoms for COVID-19 long-haulers are fatigue, breathlessness, cough, joint aches, chest pains and brain fog.
‘This is a phenomenon that is…real and quite extensive,’ Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said during a federal workshop to discuss long-term impacts and map out a research agenda, according to Seattle Times.
Estimates for how common long-haul symptoms vary, but the head of a dedicated covid recovery center at Mt Sinai in New York, Dr Zijan Chen, speculates that about 10 percent of patients have lingering symptoms, according to the New York Times.
Health experts believe that the rising numbers of COVID-19 long haulers may further strain the healthcare facilities for months and years to come.
In an effort to head off these effects, many hospitals – including Mt Sinai – have started offering therapies to COVID-19 survivors who still don’t feel ‘well’ long after the virus is gone.