Reduced libido, hallucinations and hair loss are part of a broader set of long-lasting Covid symptoms, a study of people who were infected but not hospitalized during the pandemic has found.
The most common symptoms in the weeks and months following an episode of coronavirus have long been known to include loss of smell and shortness of breath. The NHS list of common Covid symptoms also includes signs such as fatigue, rash and brain fog.
Now researchers have been able to show that people with a long history of Covid often experience an “extremely wide” variety of symptoms, including lesser-known side effects such as amnesia and an inability to perform familiar movements or commands.
The findings, published in Nature Medicine, confirm what many patients have repeatedly told their doctors, family, friends and colleagues since the pandemic began more than two years ago.
Symptom patterns tended to be grouped into respiratory symptoms, mental health and cognitive problems, and then into a broader spectrum of symptoms, the University of Birmingham study suggests.
In addition to spotting a broader set of symptoms, the researchers also identified key clusters and behaviors that put people at increased risk of developing long Covid. They suggested that women, young people and those of a black, mixed or other ethnic group were at greater risk of long Covid.
People from poorer backgrounds, smokers, and people who were overweight or obese were also associated with reporting persistent symptoms.
Lead author Dr Shamil Haroon, Associate Clinical Professor of Public Health at the University of Birmingham, said: “This research validates what patients have been telling clinicians and policy makers throughout the pandemic – that Long Covid symptoms are extremely broad and cannot be fully accounted for by other factors such as lifestyle risk factors or chronic health conditions.
“The symptoms we have identified should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects of Covid-19, and then consider how best to manage this symptom burden.
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, according to the study.
The researchers analyzed the anonymised electronic health records of 2.4 million people in the UK alongside a team of clinicians and researchers across England.
Data taken between January 2020 and April 2021 included 486,149 people with previous infection and 1.9 million people with no indication of infection after matching for other clinical diagnoses, using data from patients who had not been admitted to hospital.
Anuradhaa Subramanian, also from the University of Birmingham and lead author of the paper, said: ‘Our analyzes of risk factor data are of particular interest as they help us look at what might be causing or contributing to a long Covid.
“Women are, for example, more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases. Seeing the increased likelihood of women having long Covid in our study heightens our interest in investigating whether autoimmunity or other causes may account for the increased risk in women.
“These observations will help to better target factors to investigate what can cause these persistent symptoms after infection, and how we can help patients who experience them.”