As people with long-haul COVID-19 continue to recover from their illness, neurocognitive symptoms may persist or even worsen over time, according to researchers at DePaul University. Their study is published in Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior.

Long-haul COVID-19 is defined as the existence of serious, prolonged symptoms 3 months after contracting the SARS CoV-2 virus.

Psychologist Leonard A. Jason led the study comparing those with long-haul COVID-19 with patients who have myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

Many other symptoms of long-haul COVID-19 do appear to improve over time, which diverges from the experience of most with ME/CFS, the researchers suggest, in a media release from DePaul University.

“The symptoms hanging on most for COVID-19 long-haulers are sometimes referred to as ‘brain fog.’ People have trouble problem solving, or they get in the car and forget where they’re supposed to be going.”

— Leonard A. Jason, director of the Center for Community Research at DePaul

Surveyed About Symptoms

Researchers surveyed 278 long-haul COVID-19 patients about their symptoms at two points, six months apart. They also surveyed 502 ME/CFS patients about their symptoms, which have significant overlap with COVID-19. Jason and his team used the DePaul Symptom Questionnaire, a self-report measuring tool developed for use with ME/CFS patients.

At the 6-month mark, researchers found, COVID-19 long-haulers reported worse neurocognitive symptoms than at the outset of their illness, including trouble forming words, difficulty focusing and absent-mindedness. Still, these symptoms were ranked less severe than those with ME/CFS.

  • Most other symptoms, including sleep problems, immune-related issues, pain and gastrointestinal issues, seem to improve over time for COVID-19 long-haulers.
  • The most severe symptom for COVID-19 long-haulers and ME/CFS patients alike was post-exertional malaise, which includes feeling physically and mentally drained or heavy.

May Provide Insights

These findings may provide other researchers with insights into nervous system pathophysiology, such as that found in patients with ME/CFS. While ME/CFS is known to have many triggers, including the Epstein-Barr virus, not every patient knows what led to their illness, Jason notes.

However, COVID-19 long-haulers have a single virus to point to as the initial cause of their symptoms. Both groups face similar challenges as their family members and health care workers may not understand the changing symptom patterns, the release continues.

Jason and other researchers estimate about 10% of people who have COVID-19 become long-haulers. In reviewing the literature, the researchers suggest that past epidemics, including the 1918 pandemic, have also led to many patients having long-term fatigue.

“We don’t know how many long-haulers will stay on this type of trajectory. These types of serious neurocognitive complications are incredible given that millions of people have been infected.”

— Leonard A. Jason

[Source(s): DePaul University, Newswise]

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