NIHR Identifies Four Syndromes Commonly Experienced by Patients With “Long COVID”

Evidence published by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) suggests that ‘long COVID‘ could account for up to four different syndromes and, as stated in the organization’s review,
diagnostic uncertainty means “a number of different conditions may be falling under a single umbrella term.”

Based on a series of patient testimonials, the Institute says it is “clear that, for some people, COVID-19 infection is not a discrete episode but one that marks the start of ongoing and often debilitating symptoms.” Research cited in the review confirms that the virus “can affect not only the respiratory system but also the heart and cardiovascular system, the brain directly (encephalitis) and indirectly (e.g., secondary to low levels of oxygen or blood clots), the kidneys and the gut.” Furthermore, says the Institute, the disease is “associated with high levels of emotional distress.”

A Becker’s Hospital Review article summarizes the four subtypes NIHR identifies as commonly experienced by those with “long COVID:”

  • After-effects of intensive care:  Many patients who undergo intensive care are too weak to sit or lift their arms off the bed and struggle to speak or swallow. They may also experience depression or post-traumatic stress disorder;  
  • Post-viral fatigue: Some patients report fatigue, muscle aches and difficulty concentrating; 
  • Lasting organ damage: Many patients experience breathlessness, a cough or a racing pulse, all symptoms that may indicate lasting lung or heart damage. Additionally, some report problems with the liver and skin; and
  • Fluctuating symptoms: A survey of those with ‘long COVID’ found that 70 percent experienced fluctuations in the type of virus symptoms and 89 percent reported changes in the degree of symptoms.

NIHR’s Elaine Maxwell explains that the review isn’t confirming there are four definitive syndromes, but rather raising “a possible explanation for why so many people feel they are not being believed or heard and are not getting access to supportive treatments.”

Given the continued uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19, NIHR encourages its audience to contribute to the collective understanding of the virus by sharing resources and expertise that may help improve care for those infected. NIHR will continue to share updated information pertaining to COVID-19 on its website as it emerges. Additionally, MLMIC has assembled a number of critical resources to support New York physicians as they care for patients during the pandemic, including: