‘Long COVID-19’: Study finds more than 200 symptoms associated with virus

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many thought the disease to be just another respiratory illness. 

But a recent study published on July 15 in the medical journal Lancet found more than 200 symptoms affecting 10 organ systems associated with the novel coronavirus. 

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most people recover from COVID-19 after two weeks, the 3,762 respondents of the Lancet study took longer than 35 weeks on average to recover from the virus. 

Researchers said fatigue was the most common symptom, in some cases lasting up to six months. Cognitive dysfunction and post-exertional malaise — the worsening of symptoms following minor physical or mental exertion — were also among the most commonly observed symptoms.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents reported a decline in cognitive dysfunction or memory issues. 

"Patients with Long COVID report prolonged, multisystem involvement and significant disability," study authors wrote. "By seven months, many patients have not yet recovered (mainly from systemic and neurological/cognitive symptoms), have not returned to previous levels of work, and continue to experience significant symptom burden."

During the onset of the pandemic, many doctors were baffled by some of the deleterious effects caused by COVID-19 — originally thought to be just a respiratory illness.

But thousands of reported cases of long-haul COVID-19 survivors illustrate that the effects of the novel coronavirus can be much more complicated.

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Radiological images recently published at Northwestern University detailed the various types of long-term effects of COVID-19 including rheumatoid arthritis flares, autoimmune myositis or "COVID toes," and more.

In a study published on Feb. 17 in the journal Skeletal Radiology, the collections of images included ultrasounds, x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans which confirmed and illustrated the causes of various COVID-19 symptoms.

"We’ve realized that the COVID virus can trigger the body to attack itself in different ways, which may lead to rheumatological issues that require lifelong management," said corresponding author Dr. Swati Deshmukh.

Currently, several symptoms of COVID-19 identified in the study are not recognized by the CDC. Symptoms like "COVID toes" and "rheumatoid arthritis" aren’t listed on the agency’s website detailing the long-term effects of the novel coronavirus.

According to the CDC, the most commonly reported long-term symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain

Other reported long-term symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with thinking and concentration (sometimes referred to as "brain fog")
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Intermittent fever
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

More serious long-term complications appear to be less common but have been reported. These have been noted to affect different organ systems in the body. These include:

  • Cardiovascular: inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Respiratory: lung function abnormalities
  • Renal: acute kidney injury
  • Dermatologic: rash, hair loss
  • Neurological: smell and taste problems, sleep issues, difficulty with concentration, memory problems
  • Psychiatric: depression, anxiety, changes in mood

The CDC said, "While most persons with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients can have symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness."

According to a study from the NIH, researchers found evidence to suggest that brain damage may be a product of COVID-19. Researchers uncovered blood vessel damage and inflammation in the brains of 19 deceased COVID-19 patients.

"We found that the brains of patients who contract infection from SARS-CoV-2 may be susceptible to microvascular blood vessel damage. Our results suggest that this may be caused by the body’s inflammatory response to the virus" said Dr. Avindra Nath, clinical director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Nath, the senior author of the study, added that while COVID-19 is most commonly known to be a respiratory illness, he hopes this study will help the medical community recognize the scope of complications that can arise out of contracting the deadly virus.