Coronavirus: Seven in 10 hospital patients suffer from long COVID for weeks after discharge

Almost seven out of 10 patients hospitalised due to coronavirus still suffer from debilitating symptoms more than seven weeks after being discharged, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University College London (UCL) division of medicine, in collaboration with with clinicians at the Royal Free London (RFL) and UCL, followed 384 patients who had tested positive and had been treated at Barnet Hospital, the Royal Free Hospital or UCLH.

Collectively the average length of stay in hospital was 6.5 days.

The team found that 54 days after discharge, 69% of patients were still experiencing fatigue, and 53% were suffering from persistent breathlessness. They also found that 34% still had a cough and 15% reported depression.

In addition 38% of chest radiographs (X-rays) remained abnormal and 9% were getting worse.

Dr Swapna Mandal, an honorary clinical associate professor at UCL division of medicine, said the data shows so-called long COVID is a real phenomenon and that further research is needed to understand how the symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated over an extended period.

She said: “Patients whose COVID-19 illness is serious enough for them to require hospital care often continue to suffer significant symptoms for many weeks after their discharge.”

The study, published in the medical journal Thorax, acknowledged there were limitations to the research which only included patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and that patients requiring prolonged ICU and in-patient stay may be under-represented in the analysis.

It said that not all participants were willing to take part in the review or attend for investigations which potentially introduced selection bias.

The researchers also said they could not determine if the features observed were unique to COVID-19. They may simply be similar to those following admission for other critical respiratory illnesses.

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