Sick elderly person wearing surgical face mask and being cared for by a clinician with stethoscope

Researchers have established a pattern of ongoing symptoms that may follow patients after hospitalization for COVID-19.

Study participants included 100 patients discharged from a university hospital in the United Kingdom. Among the patients, 32 were critically ill and had been admitted to an intensive care unit and 68 were hospitalized on wards and did not require intensive care. They were interviewed four to eight weeks after discharge by rehabilitation therapists using a standardized screening tool.

The most common symptoms, in order of prevalence:

  • Fatigue: More than 60% of people treated on a ward and 72% in intensive care reported fatigue, and more than half reported that the symptom was moderate or severe.
  • Breathing troubles: Feelings of breathlessness that were not evident before COVID-19 diagnosis were reported by patients in both groups: 66% in the ICU group, and 43% in the hospital ward group.
  • Lower quality of life: More than two-thirds of patients in the intensive care group and nearly half (46%) of the ward-care group reported that their overall quality of life had deteriorated.
  • Neuropsychological issues: Nearly one quarter of the patients cared for on a ward and just under a half of the former ICU patients had some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. “PTSD symptoms are a well-recognized component of post-intensive care unit syndrome,” the authors noted.

“The emerging evidence is that for some, the road to recovery may take months,” said first author Manoj Sivan, M.D., of the University of Leeds.

The post-discharge health problems experienced by hospitalized COVID-19 patients are similar to those of patients who contracted SARS during a 2002 outbreak and MERS patients in 2012, the authors reported. Sivan and colleagues previously have predicted COVID-19 outcomes and rehabilitation needs based on these histories. 

The researchers now plan to investigate long-term symptoms in COVID-19 patients who were not hospitalized.

The study was published in The Journal of Medical Virology.