A study reveals that half of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 have at least one symptom after two years

A team of Chinese researchers has conducted the longest follow-up study of hospitalized COVID-19 patients to date, publishing the results in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. The scientists evaluated the health of 1,192 people who had been in the hospital between January 7 and May 29, 2020, in Wuhan over the following six months, one year and two years. Although health improved over time, 55% said that, after two years, they had at least one symptom. At six months the percentage was 68%.

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Fatigue or muscle weakness was the most frequently reported, falling from 52% at six months to 30% at two years. In general, the global health of these patients, after this time from hospitalization, is worse than that of the general population: they have worse quality of life, less capacity to exercise, more mental health problems and make greater use of services health care compared to other people who do not have persistent COVID.

The scientists concluded that one in three hospitalized patients reported fatigue and muscle weakness compared to 5% of the general population. The difference is also important in sleeping problems: 31% compared to 14%.

On the other hand, COVID-19 patients were also more likely to report other symptoms, such as joint pain, palpitations, dizziness, and headaches. In the quality of life questionnaires, those hospitalized also more frequently reported pain or discomfort (23%) and anxiety or depression (12%) than participants without COVID-19 (5% and 5%), respectively.

“Our findings indicate that for a certain proportion of hospitalized COVID-19 survivors, although they may have cleared the initial infection, it takes more than two years to fully recover from COVID-19. Continued follow-up of COVID-19 survivors, particularly those with symptoms of prolonged COVID, is essential to understand the longer course of the disease, as is further exploration of the benefits of rehabilitation programs for recovery”, says the main author of the research, Professor Bin Cao, from the China-Japan Friendship Hospital.

Assessments consisted of a six-minute walk test, laboratory tests, and questionnaires about symptoms, mental health, health-related quality of life, return to work, and use of health care after discharge.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of their study: "Without a control group of hospital survivors unrelated to COVID-19 infection, it is difficult to determine whether the observed abnormalities are specific to COVID-19."

In terms of methodology, the negative effects of prolonged COVID were determined by comparing participants with and without symptoms of prolonged COVID. Health outcomes at two years were determined, moreover, using a control group of people from the general population with no history of COVID-19 infection matched for age, sex, and comorbidities.

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