Research finds long-COVID can impact physical and cognitive function for at least one year
Patients experiencing post-acute COVID syndrome (PACS), also known as “long COVID” may have symptoms for at least 12 months after initial novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, significantly and negatively impacting their cognition, ability to work, participation in physical activity, interaction with others, and overall quality of life, according to a new study by Mount Sinai Hospital published in the American Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.
A team of researchers did a retrospective, observational study of 156 patients treated at Mount Sinai’s Center for Post-COVID Care between March 2020 and March 2021. The patients had previously had COVID-19 and had not yet been vaccinated at the time of the study. Patients filled out surveys on persistent symptoms and triggers of symptom exacerbation a median of 351 days from their first day of infection.
Patients received surveys after scheduling their first appointment and timestamped once submitted. They were asked detailed questions about fatigue, breathlessness, ability to complete moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity, cognitive function, health-related quality of life, anxiety, depression, disability, and their pre- and post-COVID-19 employment status.
The most common reported symptoms were fatigue (82 percent of patients), followed by brain fog (67 percent), headache (60 percent), sleep disturbance (59 percent), and dizziness (54 percent). Researchers performed a more detailed evaluation of the severity of self-reported cognitive impairment and discovered that more than 60 percent of PACS patients had some level of cognitive impairment (either mild, moderate, or severe), with symptoms including diminished short-term memory, difficulty remembering names, and issues with decision-making and daily planning.
In total, 135 patients answered questions about their employment pre- and post-COVID-19, and the number of patients in fulltime work (102) went down to 55.
The study also noted factors the patients said made their PACS symptoms worse. The biggest trigger was physical exertion (reported by 86 percent of patients), followed by stress (69 percent), dehydration (49 percent), and weather changes (37 percent).
“With millions of Americans at risk of developing PACS by the end of the pandemic, a second, longer-term public health emergency has emerged. It is imperative to understand the burden of this novel condition and develop targeted interventions to help patients participate in daily activities, as well as policies that will assist them with their disability and employment status,” said David Putrino, PhD, senior author of the study and director of rehabilitation innovation for the Mount Sinai Health System, in a statement. “This study is a concerning reminder of how severely debilitating PACS symptoms are, the toll they take on health and wellness, and the fact that, without active treatment, these symptoms appear to persist indefinitely.”