February 28, 2024

Insights to Improve Care for Long COVID Patients Unveiled by Recent Studies

Researchers at UT Health Austin have conducted two recent studies that provide valuable insights into long COVID, offering healthcare providers critical information to enhance patient care. These studies have helped define the symptoms and effects of long COVID, as well as develop methods to differentiate it from other conditions.

Long COVID is characterized by symptoms and conditions that persist for weeks, months, or even years after a person recovers from their initial COVID-19 infection, even if they were asymptomatic initially. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) continues to refine the clinical definition of long COVID.

The research conducted by UT Health Austin is instrumental in helping healthcare professionals and systems understand the complexities of long COVID, ensuring the provision of the best possible care to patients. Dr. W. Michael Brode, Medical Director of the Post-COVID-19 Program at UT Health Austin, emphasized that long COVID remains a challenge, affecting approximately 10% of COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Brode stated that their research is refining the definition and treatment requirements for long COVID and showcasing the effectiveness of innovative testing methods. These methods can identify and diagnose common issues associated with long COVID, even when traditional tests are unable to do so.

One study, published in Scientific Reports, focused on understanding the experiences of long COVID patients to improve services at specialized post-COVID clinics. The study involved 252 patients, who reported experiencing complex and disabling symptoms regardless of the severity of their initial infection, age, gender, or pre-existing health conditions.

The most common symptoms reported by patients included fatigue (89%), brain fog (89%), and difficulty concentrating (77%). Nearly half of the patients displayed mild cognitive dysfunction, and 65% rated their mental health as fair or poor, while 73% rated their physical health the same. The study found that long COVID significantly impacted patients’ ability to work, leading to a decrease in full-time employment rates and an increase in unemployment.

The second study, conducted in collaboration with researchers at Ohio State University, introduced a blood test that can accurately differentiate between patients suffering from fibromyalgia and long COVID. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body, along with fatigue and sleep difficulties, symptoms that can overlap with those of long COVID. Currently, there are no diagnostic tests available for either condition.

The study involved 100 adult patients, half diagnosed with long COVID and half with fibromyalgia. Researchers discovered a distinct chemical marker in the blood of fibromyalgia patients, which was absent in those with long COVID. The blood test offers a quick and easily conducted diagnostic method that can be implemented in clinics, leading to faster and more accurate diagnoses.

Dr. Brode expressed hope that these findings not only contribute to a better understanding of long COVID but also pave the way for targeted diagnostics and interventions. With millions of Americans still experiencing the lingering effects of the pandemic, the aim is to translate these insights into tangible healthcare solutions that can improve the lives of those affected by long COVID.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it