Portrait of sick, ill Woman Drinking Tea in the Living room
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Patients who recover from mild COVID-19 are at risk for a limited number of health outcomes associated with the condition known as long COVID. But most of these health issues resolve with a year of diagnosis — at least for those aged 60 and younger, a new study has found.

Investigators examined records for 1.9 million patients across a health system in Tel Aviv, Israel. Study subjects had a positive polymerase chain reaction test for SARS-CoV-2 between March 2020 and October 2021 and no record of COVID-19-related hospital admission in the following month.

An analysis revealed a heightened risk for a number of long COVID conditions after recovery from mild disease. These were more notable during the six months (early phase) after infection and then decreased. Common long COVID conditions included loss of smell and taste, cognitive impairment, shortness of breath, weakness and palpitations.

Patients also had significant, although relatively lower risk, for streptococcal tonsillitis and dizziness. During the early phase only, patients were likely to experience hair loss, chest pain, cough, muscle aches and respiratory disorders. 

Older adults

Outcomes also varied between age groups. Patients older than age 60 had an increased risk during the early phase for hair loss, weakness, shortness of breath and chest pain. Yet unlike their younger cohort, shortness of breath was the only symptom that remained significantly increased throughout the late phase of the study (beyond six months). 

This latter finding may suggest that older patients with several symptoms after six months were ultimately admitted to the hospital and therefore were excluded from the “mild COVID” study population, investigators said.

Long COVID is defined as “persistent symptoms or appearance of new symptoms beyond four weeks from the diagnosis of primary COVID-19, which cannot be attributed to an alternative condition,” according to the researchers.

The findings “could provide a clearer picture to clinicians and patients as to the long-term presence and presentation of COVID-19, reducing uncertainty and improving care,” they concluded.

Full findings were published January 11 in The BMJ.

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