Major life stressors increase likelihood of long COVID

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A recent study suggested that hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who experienced severely stressful events were at least twice as likely to struggle with depression, brain fog, fatigue, sleep problems, and other long COVID symptoms one year after their hospitalization.

The study was published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences and led by Jennifer Frontera, MD, professor in the Department of Neurology at New York University (NYU) Langone Health. For their investigation, Frontera and her colleagues sought to better understand the predictors of long COVID after hospitalization for COVID-19.

Involved in the study were 790 patients who had been hospitalized for COVID-19. Researchers used standard telephone survey tools to measure their level of daily function, clear thinking, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and sleep quality. Patients were followed up with six-months and 12-months after their hospitalization within NYU Langone Health between March 2020 and May 2020.

Results showed that 57 percent of the survey participants completed the six month and/or 12-month follow-up. Of the participants, 17 percent died between discharge and the 12-month follow-up. In addition, 51 percent of the patients reported significant life stressors at 12 months.

Upon analysis, researchers determined that the strongest independent predictors related to life stressors for prolonged symptoms of COVID-19 included financial insecurity, food insecurity, death of a loved one, and a new disability. In addition, these factors were strong predictors of worse functional status, depression, fatigue, sleep scores, and reduced ability to participate in daily tasks like feeding, dressing, and bathing.

Researchers also found that gender contributed to the likelihood of long COVID. According to previous studies, women are more susceptible to conditions such as autoimmune diseases that could worsen health outcomes.

According to researchers, these results indicate that life stressors can increase the likelihood of experiencing symptoms of long COVID 12-months after a COVID-19 hospitalization. In addition, they found older age, being female, having a disability, and having a severe case of acute COVID-19, were all strong predictors of prolonged symptoms.

"Our study is unique in that it explores the impact of life stressors, along with demographic trends and neurological events, as predictors of long-term cognitive and functional disabilities that affected quality of life in a large population," said Frontera in a statement. "Therapies that lessen the trauma of the most stress-inducing life events need to be a central part of treatment for long COVID, with more research needed to validate the best approaches."