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Lasting breathing problems, purple-coloured toes, exhaustion – these are just some of the symptoms of long Covid identified in a list shared by MPs.
‘Long Covid’ is a non-medical term used to describe illness in people who have
either recovered from Covid-19 but still report lasting effects of the infection, or have had the usual symptoms for far longer than would be expected.
Earlier this year, it was suggested that most people recover from Covid-19 after two weeks – however research since then has found around one in 10 people are left with debilitating symptoms for months on end.
Research from the Covid-19 Symptom Study in the UK, led by Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London, shows after three weeks of first reporting symptoms, a group of people continue to experience fatigue, headaches, coughs, loss of smell, sore throats, delirium, and chest pain.
People with mild cases of the disease are more likely to have a wide range of symptoms that come and go over an extended period, Prof Spector found. And these people are often flying under the radar because they’re not in hospital.
Some patients, who were previously healthy and active, have been left using wheelchairs or forced to move back in with their parents due to being unable to return to work and financially sustain themselves.
The all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus has heard from 550 people who have suffered continuing health problems due to Covid-19. These people want recognition of long Covid and the fact it affects all ages, and to shifting opinion from the widely-held belief that people are either hospitalised with the virus or better after two weeks. They also want support in their recovery,
Research is only just beginning to scratch the surface of the long-term effects of the virus. One study from the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust identified a pattern of longer-term symptoms likely to be experienced by people hospitalised with the virus. Fatigue, breathlessness, psychological distress – including problems with concentration and memory – and a general decline in quality of life are commonly reported in those who end up hospitalised and suffer long-term symptoms on release.
Another study found almost three quarters of people admitted to a hospital with coronavirus suffer ongoing symptoms three months later. Again, researchers found 81 out of 110 patients discharged from Southmead Hospital in Bristol were still experiencing symptoms such as breathlessness, excessive fatigue and muscle aches when invited back to clinic three months later.
MPs identified 16 common symptoms of long Covid experienced by the people they spoke to. These include:
Lasting breathing problems
Arrhythmia (a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat)
Tachycardia (where the heart beats more than 100 times per minute)
Cognitive problems - memory loss, brain fog, confusion
People struggling with the effects of long Covid often had to use a wheelchair, they said, and symptoms would recur after getting better. One submission read: “I’ve experienced sixty-six symptoms to date.”
The cross-party group of MPs has demanded that the UK government steps up support for those suffering from long Covid, describing them as the “forgotten victims” of the pandemic.
A poll from the Netherlands found that almost three months after the first symptoms of the virus, more than nine in 10 people reported having problems with simple daily activities. And 85% of respondents said their health was good before the virus, falling to 6% afterwards.
Of the 1,622 people with suspected coronavirus who took part in the survey, conducted by Longfonds (a lung foundation in the Netherlands), 91% hadn’t been hospitalised, and 43% hadn’t been diagnosed by a doctor.
Common long-term symptoms included fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pressure, headache and muscle pain – all of which were also identified by the UK’s all-party parliamentary group
“We are really shocked by this,” said Michael Rutgers, director of Longfonds. “It is the first time this large patient group has been visualised. These people really need to be seen, heard and helped.”