Hair loss and sexual dysfunction have joined the list of symptoms for people with long COVID, according to a new study.
Two million people in the UK are estimated to be suffering from long COVID, the Office for National Statistics reported in June, based on self-reports from a representative sample.
Of that two million, 1.4 million said they first had coronavirus, or suspected they had the illness, at least 12 weeks previously, while 826,000 first had it at least a year earlier.
Another 376,000 said they first had COVID-19 at least two years previously.
Now new research, based on the anonymised health records of 2.4 million people in the UK, which was conducted at the University of Birmingham and is being published in the journal Nature Medicine, has found several new symptoms.
According to the ONS, rates of long COVID are highest among women, those aged 35 to 69 years, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, teaching and education or health care, and those with other health conditions or disabilities.
Fatigue continues to be the most common symptom – experienced by 55% of those with self-reported long COVID – followed by 32% with shortness of breath, 23% with a cough and 23% with muscle ache.
The new study says other symptoms also include:
• Bowel incontinence
• Erectile dysfunction
• Limb Swelling
The data was collected between January 2020 and April 2021 and comprised 486,149 people with prior infection, and 1.9 million people with no indication of COVID-19 infection.
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The study used only non-hospitalised patients whose symptoms the researchers sorted into the three distinct categories of respiratory symptoms, mental health and cognitive problems alongside a broader range.
It is in this broader range of symptoms that hair loss and sexual dysfunction have been added.
Dr Shamil Haroon, an associate clinical professor in Public Health at the University of Birmingham, and the senior author on the study, said he hoped the findings would help clinicians.
“This research validates what patients have been telling clinicians and policy makers throughout the pandemic, that the symptoms of long COVID are extremely broad and cannot be fully accounted for by other factors such as lifestyle risk factors or chronic health conditions.”
“The symptoms we identified should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers to improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects from COVID-19, and to subsequently consider how this symptom burden can be best managed,” Dr Haroon added.
Patient partner and co-author of this study Jennifer Camaradou said: “This study is instrumental in creating and adding further value to understanding the complexity and pathology of long COVID.
“It highlights the degree and diversity of expression of symptoms between different clusters. Patients with pre-existing health conditions will also welcome the additional analysis on risk factors,” Ms Camaradou added.