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Over four million Britons are currently predicted to have symptomatic Covid in the UK. The current prevalence stems from Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 – two recent subvariants of Omicron. The subvariants have the capacity to infect people who were immune to earlier forms of Omicron and other variants. Although built-up immunity among the population means the latest surge is resulting in a milder illness, higher infection rates are leading to an increase in long Covid cases. Now, a new study published today has expanded the list of possible symptoms of long Covid.
Long Covid has come to define the symptoms of Covid that linger for weeks or months after the infection has gone.
Hair loss and a reduced sex drive are among a wider set of long Covid symptoms than previously thought, the new research suggests.
The study, published in Nature Medicine, found that while the most common symptoms include loss of smell, shortness of breath and chest pain, others include amnesia, an inability to perform familiar movements or commands, and hallucinations.
Patterns of symptoms tended to be grouped into respiratory symptoms, mental health and cognitive problems, and then a broader range of symptoms.
As well as spotting a wider set of symptoms, researchers also identified key groups and behaviour that put people at increased risk of developing long Covid.
The study suggests females, younger people, and those belonging to a black, mixed or other ethnic group are at greater risk of developing long Covid.
Additionally, people from poorer backgrounds, smokers, people who are overweight or obese, as well as the presence of a wide range of health conditions were associated with reporting persistent symptoms.
Senior author Doctor Shamil Haroon, associate clinical professor in public health at the University of Birmingham, said: “This research validates what patients have been telling clinicians and policy makers throughout the pandemic – that the symptoms of long Covid are extremely broad and cannot be fully accounted for by other factors such as lifestyle risk factors or chronic health conditions.
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“The symptoms we identified should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers to improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects from COVID-19, and to subsequently consider how this symptom burden can be best managed.”
People who tested positive for the virus reported 62 symptoms much more frequently 12 weeks after initial infection than those who had not contracted the virus, the study found.
The NHS list of common Covid symptoms includes fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, and brain fog.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham analysed anonymised electronic health records of 2.4 million people in the UK alongside a team of clinicians and researchers across England.
The data taken between January 2020 and April 2021 consisted of 486,149 people with prior infection, and 1.9 million people with no indication of coronavirus infection after matching for other clinical diagnoses.
Using data from patients that had not been admitted to hospital, the team of researchers were able to identify the three categories of distinct symptoms.
Anuradhaa Subramanian, research fellow at the Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham and lead author of the paper, said: “Our data analyses of risk factors are of particular interest because it helps us to consider what could potentially be causing or contributing to long Covid.”
She added: “Women are, for example, more likely to experience autoimmune diseases. Seeing the increased likelihood of women having long Covid in our study increases our interest in investigating whether autoimmunity or other causes may explain the increased risk in women.
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“These observations will help to further narrow the focus on factors to investigate what may be causing these persistent symptoms after an infection, and how we can help patients who are experiencing them.”
The NHS says: “Contact a GP if you’re worried about symptoms four weeks or more after you had COVID-19 or thought you may have had COVID-19.”
According to the health body, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and the impact they’re having on your life.
“They may suggest some tests to find out more about your symptoms and rule out other things that could be causing them.”
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