Up to 60% of people who've had COVID-19 still have at least one symptom a year later, and there are a couple of factors that may predict how long symptoms will persist, according to a new study presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases’ annual meeting this week.
“If your symptoms were present at 15 weeks, they were more likely to be present a year later,” explained NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar on TODAY Tuesday. “Also if you had moderate to severe disease … you’re about two times more likely to have symptoms a year later.”
She also noted that the percentage of people who develop long COVID varies greatly by study. For example, another recent study out of University of California, Los Angeles, estimated about 30%.
The European study — based on surveys of 289 patients taken a year after they were diagnosed with COVID-19, whose cases ranged from asymptomatic to severe — found that the most common long COVID symptoms reported were sleep disturbances, fatigue and breathing troubles. More than 50% struggled to sleep, one-third felt exhausted and 12% reported breathing problems that affect their quality of life.
“We don’t know exactly what causes long COVID. There are multiple different lines of research and hypotheses, but if you don’t know what causes it, it’s hard to treat it,” Azar said. “One thing that researchers and experts, myself included, who treat these patients are trying to figure out is ... let’s say you had loss of taste and smell. ... Will that potentially spontaneously remit or (is) what you have more what we call a syndrome?”
Patients with long COVID often struggle to find treatment because it is not well understood.
“There’s not one standardized or universal definition of long COVID,” Azar said. “(It's) an active area of research."
“It’s not always easy to distinguish what (long) COVID is versus just everyday life," she added. "I would say the No. 1 thing that everyone who thinks they might have a symptom related to COVID needs to do is find a provider who believes them and validates their symptoms. That’s how you begin to connect the dots and find the right practitioner for you.”