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The COVID-19 pandemic may no longer be a global public health emergency, but millions continue to struggle with the aftermath: Long COVID. New research and clinical anecdotes suggest that certain individuals are more likely to be afflicted by the condition, nearly 4 years after the virus emerged.
People with a history of allergies, anxiety or depression, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases and women are among those who appear more vulnerable to developing long COVID, said doctors who specialize in treating the condition.
Many patients with long COVID struggle with debilitating fatigue, brain fog, and cognitive impairment. The condition is also characterized by a catalog of other symptoms that may be difficult to recognize as long COVID, experts said. That’s especially true when patients may not mention seemingly unrelated information, such as underlying health conditions that might make them more vulnerable. This makes screening for certain conditions and investigating every symptom especially important.
The severity of a patient’s initial infection is not the only determining factor for developing long COVID, experts said.
“Don’t judge the person based on how sick they were initially,” said Mark Bayley, MD, medical director of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute at University Health Network and a professor with the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. “You have to evaluate every symptom as best you can to make sure you’re not missing anything else.”
Someone who only had a bad cough or felt really unwell for just a few days and recovered but started feeling rotten again later — “that’s the person that we are seeing for long COVID,” said Bayley.
While patients who become severely sick and require hospitalization have a higher risk of developing long COVID, this group size is small compared with the much larger number of people infected overall. As a result, despite the lower risk, those who only become mild to moderately sick make up the vast majority of patients in long COVID clinics.
A small Northwestern Medicine study found that 41% of patients with long COVID never tested positive for COVID-19 but were found to have antibodies that indicated exposure to the virus.
Doctors treating patients with long COVID should consider several risk factors, specialists said. They include: