Adding to the misery of long-term sufferers of COVID already plagued by fatigue and brain fog, researchers have also noted low sex drive, hair loss, and erectile dysfunction.
A study published in the journal Nature Medicine by scientists from the University of Birmingham in England examined the anonymized medical records of more than 2 million people in the U.K. They found a much wider range of symptoms of COVID infection than previously thought.
In patients with a primary care record of COVID infection, they found the virus was associated with 62 symptoms much more frequently twelve weeks after sufferers’ initial infection than those who had not contracted the virus.
British health authorities have defined long COVID as having symptoms lasting beyond 12 weeks after initial infection.
The data set was collected during the first phase of the pandemic between January 2020 and April 2021 and included more than 480,000 patients with prior infection, as well as 1.9 million people with no COVID infection after being matched for other clinical diagnoses.
The researchers, when using only non-hospitalized patients, identified three categories of symptoms among people who continued to present health complaints after initial infection. These categories are grouped into mental health and cognitive problems, respiratory symptoms, and a whole raft of other symptoms.
Common symptoms include loss of sense of smell, chest pain, fever, and shortness of breath, while other manifestations of long COVID include erectile dysfunction, loss of libido, amnesia, hair loss, bowel incontinence, hallucinations, limb swelling, and apraxia – a loss of the ability to perform familiar movements or commands.
“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,” said lead researcher Dr. Shamil Haroon of the University of Birmingham.
Fellow University of Birmingham scholar and study co-author Anuradhaa Subramanian said, “Our data analyses of risk factors are of particular interest because it helps us to consider what could potentially be causing or contributing to long COVID.”
While Subramanian identified modifiable traits such as obesity and smoking as risk factors, the study found that sex and ethnicity are also important.
“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,” Subramanian said.
“These observations will help to further narrow the focus on factors to investigate that may be causing these persistent symptoms after an infection, and how we can help patients who are experiencing them,” Subramanian said.
Women, young people, or persons categorized as black, mixed or other ethnic groups appear to be at greater risk of developing long COVID, the researchers found.
“The results are both a testament to the opportunities that these public health datasets provide, and to the power of collaborative work to provide much-needed evidence around the experiences of many people who have been affected by persistent symptoms after infection with the coronavirus,” Haroon said.
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