One year after hospitalization for COVID-19 only a minority of people feel fully recovered, with being female, obesity, and having had mechanical ventilation in hospital risk factors for not feeling fully recovered.
In the new U.K. study of more than 2,000 patients, presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2022), andin The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, research showed that one in four patients feel fully well again 1 year after hospitalization for COVID-19.
For their study, researchers from the University of Leicester used data from the post-hospitalization COVID-19 (PHOSP-COVID) prospective, longitudinal cohort study, which assessed adults aged 18 years and over who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 across the United Kingdom and subsequently discharged. The researchers assessed the recovery of 2,320 participants discharged from 39 U.K. hospitals between March 7, 2020, and April 18, 2021, who were assessed via patient-reported outcome measures, physical performance, and organ function at 5 months and at 1 year after hospital discharge. Blood samples were taken at the 5-month visit to be analyzed for the presence of various inflammatory proteins.
All participants were assessed at 5 months after discharge and 807 participants (33%) completed both the 5-month and 1-year visits at the time of the analysis. The study is ongoing. The 807 patients were mean age of 59 years, 36% were women, and 28% received invasive mechanical ventilation. The proportion of patients reporting full recovery was similar between 5 months (26%) and 1 year (29%).
Female sex and obesity major risk factors for not recovering
Being female, obese, and having had mechanical ventilation in hospital makes someone 32%, 50%, and 58%, respectively, less likely to feel fully recovered 1 year after COVID-19 hospitalization, the authors said.
“We found female sex and obesity were major risk factors for not recovering at one year,” said the researchers, led by Rachael Evans, PhD, Louise V. Wain, and Christopher E. Brightling, PhD, National Institute for Health Research, Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, University of Leicester.
The authors said fatigue, muscle pain, physically slowing down, poor sleep, and breathlessness were most common ongoing long COVID symptoms. They noted how the total number and range of ongoing symptoms at 1 year was “striking,” positively associated with the severity of long COVID, and emphasizes the “multisystem nature of long COVID.”
Several inflammatory mediators increased
An earlier publication from this study identified four groups or “clusters” of symptom severity at 5 months, which were confirmed by this new study at 1 year, the authors said. They reported that 20% had very severe physical and mental health impairment, 30% had severe physical and mental health impairment, 11% had moderate physical health impairment with cognitive impairment, and 39% had mild mental and physical health impairment.
They added that having obesity, reduced exercise capacity, a greater number of symptoms, and increased levels of C-reactive protein were associated with the “more severe clusters.” In both the very severe and the moderate with cognitive impairment clusters, levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) were higher when compared with the mild cluster.
“The limited recovery from 5 months to 1 year after hospitalisation in our study across symptoms, mental health, exercise capacity, organ impairment, and quality-of-life is striking,” the researchers noted.
“In our clusters, female sex and obesity were also associated with more severe ongoing health impairments including reduced exercise performance and health-related quality of life at one year,” and suggested that this potentially highlighted a group that “might need higher intensity interventions such as supervised rehabilitation,” they added.
There are no specific therapeutics for long COVID, the researchers said, noting that “effective interventions are urgently required.” The persistent systemic inflammation identified, particularly in those in the very severe and moderate with cognitive impairment clusters, suggested that these groups “might respond to anti-inflammatory strategies,” the authors wrote.
“We found that a minority of participants felt fully recovered 1 year after hospital discharge, with minimal improvement after a 5-month assessment,” they noted.
They added that the findings suggest the need for complex interventions that target both physical and mental health impairments to alleviate symptoms, and that specific therapeutic approaches to manage posttraumatic stress disorder might also be needed. The authors pointed out how “pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions are urgently needed,” with a “precision-medicine approach with potential treatable traits of systemic inflammation and obesity.”
They said their study highlighted the “urgent need for health-care services to support the large and rapidly increasing patient population in whom a substantial burden of symptoms exist, including reduced exercise capacity and substantially decreased health-related quality of life one year after hospital discharge.”
They warned that without effective treatments, long COVID could become a “highly prevalent new long-term condition.”
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