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Long COVID is defined by these 12 symptoms, UH research shows

University Hospitals helped lead a study of long-haul COVID symptoms.
Tim Harrison
Ideastream Public Media
University Hospitals study of long-term COVID may help reveal successful treatments

A new study on long COVID has identified the 12 most common post-infection symptoms that can affect someone months and even years after contracting the disease.

Researchers determined that people with long COVID most commonly suffer from fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, loss of smell or taste, thirst, gastrointestinal symptoms, heart palpitations, chest pain, chronic cough, abnormal movements, post-exertional malaise and issues with sexual desire or capacity, according to the study published earlier this monthin the Journal of the American Medical Association ( JAMA)

Those who were unvaccinated, had COVID-19 for the first time before the 2021 omicron strain or who had reinfections were more likely to have long COVID-19 and more severe cases as well, the study showed.

University Hospitals (UH) is playing a central role in federal efforts to study, develop treatments for and possibly prevent long COVID symptoms.

"What we're trying to do in the study is ... figure out how can we predict long COVID because COVID is going to be with us," said study co-author Dr. Grace McComsey, a researcher at UH. "We're not seeing the numbers we have seen before, but it's not gone."

UH serves as the Cleveland site for National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research into long-term symptoms of the disease that can affect patients months and even years after contracting the disease. The hospital system studied 1,100 people who reported symptoms for six months or more after first contracting COVID-19 as part of the NIH's Researching COVID To Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) study.

Nationwide, researchers assessed data from nearly 10,000 adults across the country to examine more than 30 symptoms affecting multiple body areas and organs. Researchers also established a scoring system based on these symptoms to set a threshold for those suffering from long COVID.

While the study into the most common symptoms is over, it is just the beginning of research into long COVID, McComsey said.

Next, researchers will use their findings on common symptoms as the foundation for clinical trials into how to treat or possibly prevent long COVID, she said. These clinical trials are expected to begin in July.

"When you have an intervention, you can look at that score that RECOVER did and look at it pre and post-intervention to see did they really improve?" said McComsey, adding researchers can also use the initial results to target specific symptoms. "By knowing which are the core symptoms, you can even target these symptoms for treatment."

An essential part of this research is to include minority populations who have disproportionately suffered from long COVID, McComsey said. UH has successfully recruited Black residents. More than 25% of participants in the initial study were Black, according to McComsey. But the hospital system is having trouble engaging Hispanic and rural populations and is currently trying to recruit people from those groups.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.