Two studies reveal crucial insights into long COVID amidst frustration. Healthcare professionals are gaining valuable insights to enhance the care of patients experiencing long COVID, thanks to two recent studies from the Post-COVID-19 Program at UT Health Austin, affiliated with Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, Austin.
In recent months, researchers at UT have made significant strides in understanding the symptom patterns and impacts of long COVID on patients. They are also working on methods to distinguish between long COVID and other health conditions.
As the clinical definition continues to evolve, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) characterizes long COVID as persistent symptoms and conditions stemming from COVID-19 that endure for weeks, months, or potentially even years after the initial infection. Notably, individuals who were initially asymptomatic can also develop symptoms over time.
"These research efforts are instrumental for both clinicians and health systems in grasping the complexities of long COVID and as part of providing the highest possible care for patients," said W. Michael Brode, M.D., medical director of the Post-COVID-19 Program.
Brode emphasized the ongoing problem that long COVID, which affects about 10% of COVID-19 cases, poses.
"Our research is not only refining the definition and treatment needs for long COVID, but also demonstrating the effectiveness of innovative testing methods," said Brode, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Dell Med. "These methods are capable of identifying and diagnosing long COVID's common issues, even when traditional tests fall short."
A study published in Scientific Reportsseeks to comprehend the experiences of long COVID patients with the goal of enhancing services provided at specialized post-COVID clinics. Analyzing 252 patients, regardless of their initial infection's severity, age, gender, or pre-existing health conditions, the research found that these individuals faced intricate and debilitating symptoms.
Post-recovery, patients reported a median of 18 new symptoms, with fatigue (89%), "brain fog" (89%), and difficulty concentrating (77%) being the most prevalent. Nearly half exhibited mild cognitive dysfunction during testing, and a significant portion rated their mental (65%) and physical (73%) health as "fair" or "poor." The impact on employment was notable, with a decrease in full-time employment and an increase in unemployment rates among patients.
A sick woman laying on her bed while holding her nose
In collaboration with researchers at Ohio State University, another study introduces a blood test with 100% accuracy in distinguishing between patients experiencing fibromyalgia and those with long COVID.
Published in Biomedicines, the study offers a promising method for discerning between these two conditions. Fibromyalgia, characterized by widespread pain, tenderness, fatigue, and sleep disturbances, shares symptoms that overlap with long COVID. Presently, neither condition has a specific diagnostic test.
The research involved 100 adult patients, half diagnosed with long COVID and half with fibromyalgia. Distinct chemical markers were identified in the blood of fibromyalgia patients, absent in those with long COVID. The simplicity and efficiency of the blood test make it feasible for use in clinics, potentially facilitating quicker and more precise diagnoses, as highlighted by Brode.
We hope findings can not only enhance our understanding of long COVID but also pave the way for targeted diagnostics and interventions. Millions of Americans are still living with the scars of the pandemic, and we hope to translate these insights into tangible healthcare solutions.- Michael Brode