More than 1million Brits plagued by long Covid – the five most common symptoms

THEY thought their coronavirus illness would last just a few days.

But more than one million Brits are plagued by long Covid weeks and months after their infection, new statistics show.

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The condition leaves people with persistent symptoms months after they had the coronavirus, including fatigue, muscle aches and hair loss.

Doctors are still working out how to cure “long haulers” problems, which can make life miserable and leave people off work.

The Office for National Statistics has been measuring the scale of long Covid in the UK.

It said an estimated 1.1 million people in private households in the UK had “long Covid” in the four weeks to March 6.

The ONS said around 700,000 will have had confirmed or suspected Covid at least 12 weeks previously.

A staggering 70,000 would have been suffering for at least a year.

Day-to-day activities were proving difficult for 674,000 people, while 196,000 said their ability to undertake day-to-day activities had been limited a lot.

Those 35 to 69 years were affected the most, as doctors have previously warned that even the healthiest and fittest of people have been hit, including young adults and children.

However, stats showed those with a pre-existing health condition were most likely to have long Covid.

Prevalence was also higher in women, those living in the most deprived areas, and those working in healthcare.

For example 2.1 per cent of those living in poor areas reported long Covid compared to 1.4 per cent of the wealthiest.

It’s difficult to tease out whether this is because these groups are at higher risk of long Covid, or because they are more likely to be infected with the coronavirus in the first place.

Experts have had a difficult time working out exactly who is at more risk of long Covid.

The ONS defines long Covid as symptoms persisting more than four weeks which are not explained by something else.

There is no universally agreed definition of long Covid but it covers a broad range of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain and difficulty concentrating.

Common signs of long Covid

Common long COVID symptoms include:

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration ("brain fog")
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • joint pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes

Source: NHS

SYMPTOMS OF LONG COVID

Fatigue

Various studies have now found fatigue to be the most frequent and debilitating long Covid problem.

The ONS said fatigue was reported by 11.8 per cent of people who reported long Covid five weeks after coronavirus infection, and 8.3 per cent 12 weeks after.

Almost six in ten people suffer fatigue – severe tiredness – after recovering from Covid, according to researchers in the US who studied 47,900 patients.

Some respondents said they were dealing with fatigue 100 days after they first became unwell with the coronavirus.

Headaches and other mental disorders

Headaches are a common feature of long Covid, affecting one in ten five weeks after infection, the ONS said.

US researchers reported “neuropsychiatric symptoms” – mental disorders linked with disease of the nervous symptom – in long Covid patients.

These were headaches (44 per cent), attention disorder (27 per cent) and loss of smell (21 per cent). 

They could be a result of the coronavirus directly impacting the brain, oxygen deprivation during Covid, medications, or the stress of having Covid – a deadly disease.

Hair loss 

Up to one in four people who previously had Covid have reported hair loss in various studies and surveys.

Experts said it could be a condition called telogen effluvium, which is when the hair cycle is distrubed, usually due to ill health, stress, poor diet, pregnancy or the menopause.

The good news is telogen effluvium appears to be a short term problem, lasting around three months.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath – medically called dyspnea – is present in around a quarter of Covid survivors, the US study revealed.

Abnormalities in lung scans were seen in 35 per cent of patients, up to 100 days after sickness with the coronavirus.

Decreases in lung function were seen in 10 per cent.

The researchers said it is difficult to assess whether lung problems were there prior to Covid because most patients do not have a “before” scan to compare with.

Cough

One of the symptoms of the coronavirus is a persistent, new cough.

Between seven and ten per cent of people can't shake this cough, ONS figures suggest.

Doctors have previously warned that an ongoing cough could be a sign of lung cancer, and cases were being masked by Covid.

IF YOU HAVE LONG COVID

If you think you have long Covid, visit your GP.

The NHS says your doctor will talk to you about the care and support you might need.

You could either manage symptoms at home, or if they are having a large impact on your life, you may be sent to see a specialist.

Specialist services can work out how to help you recover, with physiotherapists, psychologists and brain doctors at hand.

But because long Covid hasn't been around for very long, it's not clear if symptoms wane over time.

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