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Hair and libido loss join fatigue and brain fog among list of long COVID symptoms

hair loss long covid story

Published: 25 July 2022

A study funded by NIHR and UK Research and Innovation has found that people with long COVID experience a wider set of symptoms than previously thought, including hair loss and sexual dysfunction.

The researchers used patient records for 486,000 people to capture COVID-19 infections in the first phase of the pandemic in the UK between January 2020 and April 2021. These were compared with primary care data from 1.9 million people with no indication of coronavirus infection, providing the team with an opportunity to compare meaningful numbers of people who had coronavirus infections alongside a control group of uninfected people.

The research found that patients who had experienced COVID-19 reported 62 symptoms much more frequently 12 weeks after initial infection than those who hadn’t contracted the virus. 

The researchers were able to identify three categories of distinct symptoms reported by people with persistent health problems after COVID-19: respiratory symptoms; mental health and cognitive problems; and then a broader range of symptoms.  

The most common symptoms reported include loss of sense of smell, shortness of breath, chest pain and fever. Others include amnesia, erectile dysfunction, hallucinations, bowel incontinence, limb swelling and apraxia (inability to perform familiar movements or commands).

Dr Shamil Haroon, Associate Clinical Professor in Public Health at the University of Birmingham and the senior author on the study, said: “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.” 

Jennifer Camaradou, patient partner and co-author on the study, said: “This study is instrumental in creating and adding further value to understanding the complexity and pathology of long COVID. It highlights the degree and diversity of expression of symptoms between different clusters. Patients with pre-existing health conditions will also welcome the additional analysis on risk factors.”

As well as identifying a wider set of symptoms, the study suggests that females, younger people, and people belonging to a black, mixed or other ethnic group are at greater risk of developing long COVID. In addition, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, smokers, people who are overweight or obese, and people with a wide range of existing were more likely to report persistent symptoms after COVID-19. 

Anuradhaa Subramanian, Research Fellow at the Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham and lead author of the paper,  said: “Our data analyses of risk factors are of particular interest because they help us to consider what could potentially be causing or contributing to long COVID. We already know that certain modifiable traits such as smoking and obesity put people at increased risk of various diseases and conditions, including long COVID. However, others such as biological sex and ethnicity also appear to be important.”

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