Hair loss and erectile dysfunction have joined the long list of Covid symptoms, according to new research.
The study found that while the most common symptoms include loss of smell, shortness of breath, and chest pain, others include amnesia, erectile dysfunction, hallucinations, inability to move or familiar commands, bowel incontinence and swelling of the limbs.
Symptom patterns tended to be grouped into respiratory symptoms, mental health and cognitive issues, and then into a broader range of symptoms.
In addition to spotting a broader set of symptoms, the researchers also identified key clusters and behaviors that put people at increased risk of developing long Covid.
As reported last month, a record 2 million people in the UK are estimated to be suffering from long Covid, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Around 3.1% of the UK population suffers from symptoms which persist for more than four weeks after catching Covid. Some 376,000 people who first caught Covid at the start of the pandemic reported symptoms lasting at least two years.
The study suggests that women, young people and those from a black, mixed-race or other ethnic group are at greater risk of developing long Covid.
Additionally, people from poorer backgrounds, smokers, and overweight or obese people, as well as those with a wide range of health conditions, were more likely to report persistent symptoms.
Lead author Dr Shamil Haroon is an associate clinical professor of public health at the University of Birmingham.
He said: “This research validates what patients have been telling clinicians and policy makers throughout the pandemic – that the symptoms of long Covid are extremely broad and cannot be fully explained by other factors, such as lifestyle risk factors or chronic health conditions.
“The symptoms we have identified should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects of Covid-19, and consider how best to manage this symptom burden.
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, according to the study.
The NHS list of common Covid symptoms includes fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness and ‘brain fog’.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham analyzed the anonymised electronic health records of 2.4 million people in the UK alongside a team of clinicians and researchers across England.
Data obtained between January 2020 and April 2021 included the records of 486,149 people with previous infection and 1.9 million people with no indication of coronavirus infection after matching for other clinical diagnoses.
Using data from patients who had not been admitted to hospital, the research team was able to identify the three distinct categories of symptoms.
Anuradhaa Subramanian, a researcher at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research and lead author of the paper, said: ‘Our analyzes of risk factor data are particularly interesting because they help us determine what which could potentially cause or contribute to long Covid.
She added: “Women are, for example, more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases. Seeing the increased likelihood of women having long Covid in our study heightens our interest in investigating whether autoimmunity or other causes may account for the increased risk in women.
“These observations will help to better target factors to investigate what can cause these persistent symptoms after infection, and how we can help patients who experience them.”
The findings are published in natural medicine.
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