A reduced sex drive, hallucinations and hair loss are among a wider set of long Covid symptoms, according to a study of people who were infected but not hospitalized during the pandemic.
The most common symptoms in the weeks and months after a bout of coronavirus have long been known to include loss of smell and shortness of breath. The NHS list of common Covid symptoms also includes signs such as fatigue, rashes and brain fog.
Now researchers have been able to show that people with long Covid often experience an “extremely broad” variety of symptoms, including less well-known side effects such as amnesia, and an inability to perform familiar movements or commands.
The findings, published in Nature Medicine, support what many patients have been repeatedly telling their doctors, family, friends and colleagues since the pandemic began more than two years ago.
Patterns of symptoms tended to be grouped into respiratory symptoms, mental health and cognitive problems, and then a broader range of symptoms, the University of Birmingham study suggests.
As well as spotting a wider set of symptoms, researchers also identified key groups and behavior that put people at increased risk of developing long Covid. They suggested that women, younger people and those from a black, mixed or other ethnic group were at greater risk of long Covid.
People from poorer backgrounds, smokers and people who were overweight or obese were also linked with reporting persistent symptoms.
The senior author, Dr Shamil Haroon, associate clinical professor in public health at the University of Birmingham, said: “This research validates what patients have been telling clinicians and policymakers 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.
“The symptoms we identified should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers to improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects from Covid-19, and to subsequently consider how this symptom burden can be best managed.”
People who tested positive for the virus reported 62 symptoms much more frequently 12 weeks after initial infection than those who had not contracted the virus, the study found.
Researchers analyzed anonymised electronic health records of 2.4 million people in the UK alongside a team of clinicians and researchers across England.
The data taken between January 2020 and April 2021 included 486,149 people with prior infection and 1.9 million people with no indication of infection after matching for other clinical diagnoses, using data from patients that had not been admitted to hospital.
Anuradhaa Subramanian, also of the University of Birmingham and lead author of the paper, said: “Our data analyzes of risk factors are of particular interest because it helps us to consider what could be causing or contributing to long Covid.
“Women are, for example, more likely to experience autoimmune diseases. Seeing the increased likelihood of women having long Covid in our study increases our interest in investigating whether autoimmunity or other causes may explain the increased risk in women.
“These observations will help to further narrow the focus on factors to investigate what may be causing these persistent symptoms after an infection, and how we can help patients who are experiencing them.”