Long COVID Leads to Greater Health Risks, Research Finds

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Aug. 22, 2023 -- People who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus have a greater risk of many long-term health conditions, including diabetes, lung problems, fatigue, blood clots and disorders affecting the gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal systems.

That is the finding of a new study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The school distributed a press release about the study under the headline, “Long COVID still worrisome 2 years after infection.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

“Some estimates show more than 90% of the U.S. population has been infected with COVID-19,” said Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of the research and development at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System and clinical epidemiologist at Washington University, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Doctors need to realize that their patients could be at risk of these conditions, be it heart disease or lung problems or brain problems — they’re at risk.”

In the research, scientists looked at health records for 138,000 patients who had been infected compared to 6 million who had not. They followed 80 health conditions associated with long COVID for two years. They used unnamed records from the VA.

“There was really nothing at all looking at what happens to people at two years after the infection,” Al-Aly said. “So we decided to take a look.”

Patients who hadn’t been hospitalized within 30 days of infection had a higher risk of death six months after recovery, and a higher risk of hospitalization within 18 months. They had higher risk of diabetes, fatigue, joint pain and other problems than people who had not been infected.

“In the non-hospitalized group, risks remained elevated for several problems, for several organ systems,” Al-Aly said. “For the people who were hospitalized, the risk was ubiquitous across all organ systems. It really spans the gamut with respect to the organ systems that are affected.”

People who had been hospitalized had a 65% greater risk of illnesses after two years. Non-hospitalized patients had just a 35% greater risk.