U.K. study identifies new long COVID symptoms


New research has found that patients with a primary care record of infection with COVID-19, reported 62 symptoms much more frequently 12 weeks after initial infection. Among the more common symptoms such as brain fog and fatigue, this study found additional symptoms such as hair and libido loss.

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, was conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom in collaboration with a team of clinicians and researchers across England. The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and U.K. Research and Innovation. 

Investigators at the University of Birmingham assessed anonymous electronic health records of 2.4 million people in the U.K. The data was taken between January 2020 and April 2021 and was comprised of 486,149 people with prior infection and 1.9 million people with no indication of COVID-19 infection. The participants in the study were not hospitalized. 

The researchers found three categories of distinct symptoms reported by people with persistent health problems. Patterns of symptoms tended to be grouped into respiratory symptoms, mental health, and cognitive problems, and then a broader range of symptoms. While the most common symptoms include anosmia (loss of sense of smell), shortness of breath, chest pain and fever; others from the study include:

  • hair loss
  • amnesia
  • apraxia (inability to perform familiar movements or commands)
  • bowel incontinence
  • erectile dysfunction
  • hallucinations
  • limb swelling

"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," said Shamil Haroon, PhD, associate clinical professor in public health at the University of Birmingham and senior author of the study said in a statement. "The symptoms we identified should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers to improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects from COVID, and to subsequently consider how this symptom burden can be best managed."

In addition, the study suggested that females, younger people, or those belonging to a Black, mixed, or other ethnic group are at greater risk of developing long COVID. People from low socioeconomic 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.