New research showing widespread long Covid among former hospital patients shows a need for long term support, a leading Dundee lung expert has said.
The UK-wide study reveals seven in 10 hospitalised Covid-19 patients were not fully recovered months later.
It also found one in five participants of the study reached the threshold for a new disability.
Dundee University academic and respiratory physician Professor James Chalmers said a “comprehensive plan” is needed to tackle the issue before it spirals out-of-control.
What was the study?
The study was led by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre and jointly funded by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
It analysed 1,077 patients who were discharged from hospital between March and November 2020 following an episode of Covid-19.
- Majority of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 have not fully recovered after five months
- Those who experience more persistent symptoms tend to be middle-aged, white, females, with underlying health conditions
- Little relationship between the severity of initial illness and ongoing symptoms
- Cognitive impairment, also referred to as ‘brain fog’, occurs as a predominant symptom in a sub-set of patients who tend to be older and male
Professor James Chalmers represents Scotland on the the Post-Hospitalisation Covid-19 Study management board.
He said: “These results are shocking in the sense that so few patients have fully recovered five months after their stay in hospital and it shows once again that this disease has a long tail that we are only beginning to understand.
“One of the most important things about this study is that it is not necessarily those patients who found themselves in ICU who continue to experience these symptoms.
“Even those who would have been regarded as being mildly ill continue to suffer, showing that we cannot predict who will experience these symptoms on the severity of the initial illness.”
The research found that the majority of survivors who left hospital following Covid-19 did not fully recover five months after discharge and found their ability to work severely impaired.
What symptoms did the participants have?
Researchers found that each had an average of nine persistent symptoms.
The 10 most common symptoms reported were:
- muscle pain
- physically slowing down
- impaired sleep quality
- joint pain or swelling
- limb weakness
- short-term memory loss
- slowed thinking
Patients were also assessed for mental health.
The study reports that over 25% of participants had clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression.
12% had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at their five-month follow-up appointment.
Of the participants employed before contracting Covid-19, 17.8% were no longer working, and nearly a fifth had experienced a health-related change in their occupational status.
Professor Chalmers added: “This pre-print looks at data from the first 1,000 patients on the Post-Hospitalisation Covid-19 Study.
“We will continue to follow up with these participants up to a year after their discharge and we need to enrol many more volunteers to keep learning more about the ongoing effects of Covid-19.
“Although this is a UK-wide study, it highlights the need for a comprehensive plan for the treatment of Long Covid patients in Scotland.
“Over the next year there will be a large number of Scots experiencing these symptoms and we need a strategy in place to aid their rehabilitation and help them return to work.”
Long Covid ‘lasting and debilitating’
There are more than 300,000 post-hospitalisation survivors in the UK that have been discharged from hospital following Covid-19.
Chris Brightling, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Leicester and the chief investigator for the study, 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 pre-print, ‘Physical, cognitive and mental health impacts of COVID-19 following hospitalisation: a multi-centre prospective cohort study’, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, will be available online.