Study Identifies Risk Factors for Long COVID


While the precise causes of long COVID remain elusive, a recent study by Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has provided new insights into its prevalence and risk factors. 

The study found that individuals with milder initial infections, including those vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 and those infected with the Omicron variant, were more likely to recover swiftly. Importantly, recovery times for subsequent infections were consistent.

“Our study underscores the important role that vaccination against COVID has played, not just in reducing the severity of an infection but also in reducing the risk of long COVID,” said Elizabeth Oelsner, MD, MPH, the lead author and Herbert Irving Associate Professor of Medicine.

Involving over 4,700 participants from the Collaborative Cohort of Cohorts for COVID 19 Research (C4R), the study asked participants to report their recovery times post-SARS-CoV-2 infection. Between 2020 and early 2023, the median recovery time was found to be 20 days, with over 20 percent of adults not recovering within three months.

Women and individuals with pre-pandemic cardiovascular disease were particularly less likely to recover within this timeframe. Other pre-existing conditions such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease, depressive symptoms, and smoking history were initially linked to longer recovery times. However, these associations were not significant after adjusting for factors like sex, cardiovascular disease, vaccination status, and variant exposure.

“Although studies have suggested that many patients with long COVID experience mental health challenges, we did not find that depressive symptoms prior to SARS-CoV-2 infection were a major risk factor for long COVID,” said Dr. Oelsner.

The study also highlighted that American Indian and Alaska Native participants were disproportionately affected by severe infections and longer recovery times.

“Our study clearly establishes that long COVID posed a substantial personal and societal burden,” added Dr. Oelsner. “By identifying who was likely to experience a lengthy recovery, we gain a better understanding of who should be prioritized in ongoing research to mitigate or prevent the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

Integrative practitioners should be aware of these findings as they provide a framework for identifying at-risk patients and tailoring interventions to support long-term recovery from COVID-19.