A new UK study shows over a third of people who had COVID-19 experienced symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks.
Based on self-reported data from over 500,000 adults aged 18 and above, rounds three to five of REACT-2 studies were carried out between September 2020 and February 2021.
Around a fifth of participants reported having experienced a COVID-19 symptom, and over a third reported persistent symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks. Around a tenth of those with symptoms said they lasted 12 weeks and were severe.
Participants who reported persistent symptoms at 12 weeks fell into two groups. In the first group the most common symptom was tiredness and muscle aches, whereas in the second group the most common symptoms were shortness of breath affecting normal activities, tightness in chest, and chest pain.
The experience of persistent COVID-19 symptoms is commonly referred to as long COVID.
The findings suggest prevalence of persistent symptoms increases with age, with a 3.5 per cent increase in likelihood of long COVID in each decade of life.
The findings also reveal long COVID is more common among women, people who smoke, live in deprived areas, are overweight or obese, or had been admitted to hospital. Persistent COVID-19 symptoms were lower in people of Asian ethnicity.
Former Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock says long COVID can have a lasting and debilitating impact on the lives of those affected.
According to Hancock, findings from these studies and other new research are being used to develop support and treatments.
“We are learning more about long COVID all the time and have made £50 million of research funding available to support innovative projects, with clinics established across the country to help improve the treatment available.”
The NHS has opened more than 80 long COVID assessment services across England to help people suffering debilitating long-term effects.
Last week the NHS published a £100 million plan to expand their support, including £30 million to help GPs improve diagnosis and care for patients with long COVID.
Director of the REACT programme Professor Paul Elliott says the findings paint a concerning picture of the long-term health consequences of COVID-19 and that it needs to be addressed in policy and planning.
“Long COVID is still poorly understood but we hope through our research that we can contribute to better identification and management of this condition, which our data and others’ suggest may ultimately affect millions of people in the UK alone.”
Since the study was based on self-reported data and many of the symptoms are common and not specific to COVID-19, the results may overestimate the prevalence of persistent symptoms following COVID-19.
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