Approximately 85% of so-called COVID-19 “long haulers” have experienced four or more neurologic symptoms while contending with the long-term impacts of contracting the coronavirus, according to a new study by Northwestern Medicine.
Northwestern physicians interviewed “long-haulers,” defined as individuals who have had COVID-19 symptoms for six or more weeks, the hospital system said in a statement announcing the results of what it said was the first such study.
The neurologic symptoms “impacted their quality of life, and in some patients, their cognitive abilities,” according to Northwestern.
Doctors say that depression and anxiety were among the most common comorbidities that patients reported facing prior to their COVID-19 diagnosis.
“We were surprised by the number of patients who were suffering from depression or anxiety before their COVID-19 diagnosis, and this suggests a possible neuropsychiatric vulnerability to developing long COVID,” Koralnik said.
The study interviewed 100 individuals who are no longer hospitalized due to their COVID-19 symptoms. Individuals from 21 different states were interviewed as part of the long-ranging study, which took place from May to November of 2020.
Of those patients, 81% reported “brain fog,” while 68% reported persistent headaches. More than 50% of patients reported numbness or tingling, disorders of taste and smell, and muscle pain, among other neurologic symptoms.
Physicians said 85% of patients reported feeling frequent fatigue, with another 47% reporting depression or anxiety while going through their fight with the disease. Another 46% reported feeling shortness of breath, while 37% reported having chest pain.
The study indicates that long Covid‐19 is an important emerging entity requiring multidisciplinary expertise and care. It is estimated that 87% of hospitalized Covid‐19 patients continue to have symptoms 60 days after disease onset, and app‐based symptom trackers estimate that 4.5% of patients have mild Covid‐19 symptoms lasting greater than 8 weeks. Other studies report that half of non‐hospitalized Covid‐19 patients experienced at least one persisting symptom after a mean of 4 months. Accordingly, several million people in the world may already suffer from “long Covid.”
The long‐term impact of “long Covid” on quality of life and potential return to normalcy, through lost productivity and lingering cognitive dysfunction, may be substantial as the pandemic continues to escalate.