Most people hospitalized for COVID-19 are taking months to bounce back, a new study confirms.
More than 70% of patients reported experiencing lingering symptoms, including coughing, rapid or irregular heartbeat and breathlessness. About half had fatigue or physical limitations. All of these symptoms are associated with long COVID-19.
“My clinic patients often want to know how soon they'll get back to their usual health,” said study first author Dr. Andrew Admon, an assistant professor in the departments of internal medicine and epidemiology at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
“Based on these data, it seems that many people hospitalized for COVID-19 should expect symptoms to last for up to six months or even longer,” Admon said in a news release from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The researchers drew these conclusions after assessing data from the medical records and follow-up surveys of 825 adults who were treated for COVID-19 between August 2020 and July 2021 at one of 44 medical centers in the United States.
The research team surveyed patients one, three and six months after leaving the hospital for general or intensive care treatment.
About six months after being hospitalized, nearly 75% of the patients had at least one cardiopulmonary problem, such as cough or chest problems; swelling in their legs, ankles and feet; or a need for home oxygen support. About 67% of patients had reported this after one month.
After six months, about 51% of patients said they felt fatigued, compared to 41% who did so after one month. And about 18% said they felt tired every day, the investigators found.
The issues weren't just physical for these adults. More than half said they faced financial challenges, the study authors noted.
About 56% reported experiencing financial difficulty after six months, such as being unable to pay bills, compared to 66% after one month.
Hispanic and Black participants, as well as those who reported financial difficulty at one month, were more likely to have experienced financial challenges during the sixth month, according to the report.
About 47% of patients said they had limitations in doing everyday activities, such as eating, preparing meals, bathing or getting dressed. This was an improvement over the answers after one month, when about 55% of patients reported those limitations.
For some patients, symptoms came and went, the researchers said.
“These findings will inform programs designed to help adults recover from severe cases of COVID and guide how physicians should check in with patients in the year following hospitalization,” said James Kiley, director of the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's division of lung diseases. “They may also help shape future clinical research studies.”
The study, which was funded by the NIH, was published online Feb. 14 in JAMA Network Open.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on long COVID.
SOURCE: U.S. National Institutes of Health, news release, Feb. 14, 2023