Lingering COVID-19 symptoms persist months after being ill

June 7, 2021

A wide variety of symptoms persisted in more than 70% of COVID-19 patients months after recovering from the initial phases of disease, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine.

Most of the patients in the study — one of the largest reviews of scientific literature on the topic — had been hospitalized due to COVID-19, according to a news release from the medical school. 

Among the most common lingering symptoms were shortness of breath, fatigue, and sleep disorders. In all, 84 different symptoms and clinical signs were reported, including loss of taste and smell, cognitive disorders such as loss of memory and difficulty concentrating, depression, anxiety, chest pain and fevers.

The findings raise concern about an immense public health burden if even a portion of these patients need continuing care, said Steven Goodman, MD, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health and Medicine.

“If something on the order of 70% of those coming out of moderate to serious COVID-19 are showing persisting symptoms, that is a huge number,” Goodman said.

The study appears in JAMA Network Open.

The authors collected and analyzed results from 45 different studies published in English between January 2020 and March 2021. The studies included a total of 9,751 patients diagnosed with COVID-19, 83% of whom had been hospitalized. Goodman added that there is little research available on post-COVID-19 symptoms among those with milder cases, but that two studies, reporting on 214 outpatients, showed high frequencies of persistent symptoms.

For their review, the authors defined persistent symptoms as those lasting for at least 60 days after diagnosis, symptom onset or hospital admission, or at least 30 days after recovery from acute illness or hospital discharge. The majority of the studies followed patients no more than three months, but a few followed patients for six months.

The authors found that 72.5% of study participants reported at least one persistent symptom. The rates were as high in two six-month studies. The symptoms indicated that a variety of systems within the body were affected, including cardiac, respiratory, neuromuscular, neurological, circulatory and immune systems.

The most commonly occurring symptoms were shortness of breath, fatigue, exhaustion, and sleep problems. 

Visit Stanford for more news