“Long COVID” could be a combination of four different syndromes affecting the body at the same time, new research suggests.
Coronavirus patients still suffering debilitating symptoms after seven months may be experiencing a mixture of post-viral fatigue syndrome, post-intensive care syndrome, permanent organ damage and long-term COVID syndrome, researchers claim.
The study, carried out by the National Institute for Health Research, warns that about 60,000 people could be living with long COVID in the UK.
Children are also at risk – and there is no guarantee that people who are less vulnerable to COVID-19 will not experience ongoing symptoms.
They include breathlessness, chronic fatigue, ‘brain fog’, permanent organ damage, anxiety and stress.
Some patients also experience a “rollercoaster of symptoms” that “move around the body”, according to Dr Elaine Maxwell, the author of the review.
Others suffer “floating” symptoms, which affect one party of the body for a time – only to be replaced by separate ones in a different area, she added.
Dr Maxwell said: “The list of symptoms is huge and covers every part of the body and brain.
“We believe that the term ‘long COVID’ is being used as a capsule for more than one syndrome, possibly up to four.
“People without a clear diagnosis told us they’re often not believed by health services.
“There are people who never had any support in hospital, never had a test, have no record of ever having had COVID, except their own personal history. They may be suffering far more than somebody who’s ventilated for 21 days.”
She also warned that the number of people with long-term coronavirus symptoms is likely to increase as the pandemic continues.
A separate study published in the British Journal of General Practice reported that long COVID patients are still struggling with simple tasks months on from their diagnosis.
One 34-year-old woman who took part in the study said she needed a break after tasks such as peeling vegetables.
She said: “I have to do a chore, sit down for 15, 20 minutes and then do the next, which frustrates me. It’s like peeling potatoes, I can’t peel the carrots straight afterwards.”
Meanwhile, there have been warnings over an increased number of under-65s dying of heart disease as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The British Heart Foundation found there have been more than 800 “excess deaths” from heart and circulatory conditions in England and Wales since the start of the UK outbreak.
This means 800 more people have died of heart problems than average over the past five years.
The charity is urging anyone with symptoms to get them checked and heart patients to be prioritised in hospital as the second wave of the virus hits.