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People infected with COVID-19 have a greater risk of fatigue and sleep problems

A new study of over 220,000 patients has found that those who contract COVID-19 are at a greater risk of fatigue and sleep problems. 

The NIHR-funded research involved the analysis of 226,521 electronic primary care health records. It found that people with a positive PCR COVID-19 test had an almost six-fold higher likelihood of reporting fatigue to a GP and three-fold higher risk of sleep issues in those who had not been to the GP for these problems in the past.

The research, funded by the NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (GM PSTRC), also found that the risk of mental illness was 83% higher in people who tested positive for COVID-19. However, there was also a 71% higher risk in those who tested negative. This might be explained by the fact that people who get a test are more likely to have risk factors for mental illness, rather than COVID-19 directly causing mental illness. 

Dr Matthias Pierce, researcher at The University of Manchester who led the work, said, “While fatigue is clearly a consequence of COVID-19, the risk of experiencing sleep problems is also very high. However, we are sceptical regarding the extent that COVID-19 is directly causing people to become mentally ill, or whether those with a predisposition to mental illness are more likely to get tested.”

Co-lead of the mental health research programme at the NIHR GM PSTRC Professor Roger Webb, also from The University of Manchester, said, “Our findings align with those generated by investigations conducted in other countries in revealing elevated risks of mental illness, self-harm, fatigue, and disrupted sleep patterns among people testing positive for infection during the pandemic. Establishing the mechanisms that have caused these outcomes to occur is the next major challenge for researchers in our field.”

Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, a co-author on the paper, Professor of General Practice Research at Keele University and a General Practitioner, said, “It is vital that general practitioners recognise the long-term impact of COVID-19 infection on their patient population. Offering follow-up to people who test positive for COVID-19 infection may help identify persisting symptoms, and sign-post people to the Your COVID Recovery website. The increased risk of developing mental health problems in people who tested negative may be due to health anxiety in these patients, and primary care has a role in identifying and supporting such patients.”

The research was published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open. Find out more about the study on The University of Manchester website.