‘Long Covid’ could be four separate syndromes, academics have found, warning that the wide-ranging symptoms mean some people are not being believed or treated.
Thousands of sufferers have reported symptoms ranging from breathlessness, chronic fatigue, brain fog, anxiety and stress, after initially recovering from Covid-19.
A review, published this week by the National Institute for Health Research, suggested that long Covid can be split into post-intensive care syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome, long-term Covid syndrome and permanent organ damage.
Research author Dr Elaine Maxwell said the ‘huge’ list of symptoms ‘covers every part of the body and brain’, adding that ‘people without a clear diagnosis’ are ‘often not believed by health services’.
One person may suffer from more than one of these syndromes at a time or switch between them as symptoms progress.
Some patients experience a ‘rollercoaster of symptoms’ that ‘move around the body’, while some suffer ‘floating symptoms’ affecting one part of the body only to be replace by separate ones in a different area, Dr Maxwell explained.
Long-term symptoms can impact both those who have been to hospital with Covid-19 and those who only had it mildly, the review found.
But it noted that those who had been seriously ill with Covid-19 were not at a higher risk of its long-term effects than those who had only been mildly ill.
Those who had mild Covid-19 symptoms ‘may be suffering far more than somebody who’s been ventilated for 21 days,’ Dr Maxwell added.
The paper called for a ‘working diagnosis’ of ongoing Covid-19 – recognised by healthcare services, employers and government – to help sufferers access support.
In addition, it said there must be more support in the community alongside the recently announced one-stop hospital clinics.
Dr Maxwell also warned that the number of people with Long Covid symptoms is likely to increase as the pandemic continues.
Some estimates suggest that 10% of Covid patients may still be experiencing symptoms more than three weeks after infection. Around 60,000 people could be living with Long Covid in the UK.
The long-term impact of Covid is more likely to impact certain groups, such as black, Asian and minority ethnic people, as well as those with existing mental health problems or learning difficulties.
It comes as NHS England last week announced local funding will be invested this year into setting up long Covid clinics in ‘every area across England’.
GPs will work alongside respiratory consultants, physiotherapists, other specialists to ‘assess, diagnose and treat’ people suffering from symptoms, such as breathlessness, chronic fatigue, ‘brain fog’, anxiety and stress, NHS England said.
Meanwhile, GPs can continue to refer patients to the online rehabilitation service for patients who have had coronavirus, which first launched in July but has recently been updated to provide patients with a tailored rehabilitation plan.
NHS England has also commissioned new NICE guidance by the end of October on the medical case definition of ‘long Covid’ – including patients who have not previously been admitted to hospital or tested positive for coronavirus.