Women’s post-COVID symptoms differ distinctly from men

Dec. 20, 2021

In a study of the first 108 patients seen by Mayo Clinic's Post-COVID-19 Care Clinic, researchers found that women predominantly showed symptoms of fatigue, followed by muscle pain and low blood pressure, while men primarily experienced shortness of breath, according to a news release.

The team says these characteristics will help healthcare providers diagnose and treat people suspected of having post-COVID syndrome. The findings, based on data collected between January and April, appear in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

To better understand the characteristics of post-COVID-19 ― what is also known as long-haulers syndrome ― Mayo researchers analyzed cases of the first 108 patients in their new care clinic, of which 75% were women.

They found six main symptoms:

  •  Fatigue
  •  Muscle ache or pain
  •  Low blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache 

Of 81 women studied, 72% had fatigue as their dominant symptom. Of the 27 men in the study 58% had shortness of breath.

Most patients in the study also showed a sharp rise in interleukin, or IL-6, a cytokine that the immune system releases to fight disease. But IL-6 also causes inflammation. These patients ― 57% of the cohort ― had high IL-6 levels up to three months after being infected with COVID-19. IL-6 has long been associated with fatigue and sleep problems. The same level of IL-6 was not present in the men in the study.

The downstream effects of these symptoms means that immune dysregulation for weeks or months, and a slow recovery. The three major symptoms of the women ― fatigue, muscle aches and low blood pressure ― make up what is known as central sensitization syndrome and the core of what is now being called post-COVID syndrome. 

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