Long COVID Symptoms Last for a Year for Some Patients

This frequency of symptoms 1 year after recovering from severe COVID-19 disease is concerning, as much is still unknown about “long COVID.”

Most experts believe that we will never get rid of COVID-19. On the bright side, that’s because they believe that it will become endemic, evolving into the sort of illness for which an individual might need a yearly vaccine, similar to treatment for influenza. On the not-so-bright side, many people suffer from long COVID, and since the disease only attacked in early 2020, experts aren’t sure of exactly what “long means.” Weeks? Months? Years?

A recent study illustrates that long COVID’s physical, mental, and cognitive symptoms can cling to some patients for at least a year. The patients in the study had to go to intensive care units (ICUs) because of the severity of infection.

The exploratory prospective multicenter cohort study was conducted in the ICUs of 11 Dutch hospitals and published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Investigators included 452 patients aged 16 and older who survived ICU admission during the first COVID-19 surge (March 1-July 1, 2020). The patients were followed up for 1 year following their release from the ICU, and the final follow-up date was June 16, 2021.

The main outcomes were physical symptoms (including frailty, fatigue, and other physical problems), mental symptoms (anxiety, depression, PTSD), and cognitive symptoms self-reported 1 year after ICU treatment.

Of the initial patient cohort, 301 (66.8%) were included in the study. The average age was 61.2 years, the average duration of ICU stay was 18 days, and 71.5% were male. A year after their release from the ICU, 74.3% of patients reported physical symptoms, 26.2% reported mental symptoms, and 16.2% reported cognitive symptoms.

The most commonly reported new physical problems were weakened condition (38.9%), joint stiffness (26.3%), joint pain (25.5%), muscle weakness (24.8%), and myalgia (21.3%).

The respondents indicated that their continued COVID-19 symptoms make it difficult to go about their day-to-day lives, with 58% of ICU survivors saying they had problems returning to work.

This frequency of symptoms 1 year after recovering from severe COVID-19 disease is concerning, as much is still unknown about “long covid” and the long-term health impact of COVID-19 infection.

This article originally appeared in Contagion®.