Long Covid symptoms include hair and libido loss
People who suffer long-term consequences of Covid-19 can experience a wide range of symptoms. As the precise nature and duration of Long Covid is still being untangled by researchers poring over real-time data, the list of the most common symptoms is not yet settled.
Among the most frequent complaints are fatigue and brain fog. Now scientists at the University of Birmingham have added two more: hair loss and sexual dysfunction. In a paper published in Nature Medicine, researchers reported that people who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 experienced various combinations of up to 62 symptoms at 12 weeks after initial infection.
The study looked at anonymised electronic health records of 2.4 million people in the UK. Researchers used matched data taken between January 2020 and April 2021 from 486,149 people with prior infection, and 1.9 million people with no indication of coronavirus infection.
Patterns of symptoms tended to be grouped into respiratory symptoms, mental health and cognitive problems, and then a broader range of issues. While the most common include anosmia (loss of sense of smell), shortness of breath, chest pain and fever; others include: amnesia, apraxia (inability to perform familiar movements or commands), bowel incontinence, erectile dysfunction, hallucinations, and limb swelling.
Dr Shamil Haroon, Associate Clinical Professor in Public Health at the University of Birmingham said the research validates what patients have been telling clinicians and policy makers throughout the pandemic.
‘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,’ he said. ‘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.’
As well as identifying a wider set of symptoms, the research team also found key demographic groups and behaviours which put people at increased risk of developing Long Covid.
The study suggests that females, younger people; or belonging to a black, mixed or other ethnic group are at greater risk of developing Long Covid. In addition, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, smokers, people who are overweight or obese, as well as the presence of a wide range of health conditions were associated with reporting persistent symptoms.
The research included input from several ‘patient partners’ whose insights helped to inform how the study was devised and how data was analysed. Jennifer Camaradou, patient partner and co-author of the study, said the work would be of value to patients coping with a diverse range of post-Covid illnesses.
‘This study is instrumental in creating and adding further value to understanding the complexity and pathology of long Covid. It highlights the degree and diversity of expression of symptoms between different clusters,’ she said. ‘Patients with pre-existing health conditions will also welcome the additional analysis on risk factors.’