To better understand what could be driving their symptoms, the researchers conducted tests to assess their breathing patterns during exercise and typical daily routines.
Participants were also asked to indicate patterns of fatigue over the prior half-year, as well as any joint stiffness, muscle aches, sleep and concentration problems, and exertion-related issues.
In all, 46% had developed post-COVID chronic fatigue, the study found. And that’s a troubling finding, Mancini said, given that in many cases, the initial COVID infection was not life-threatening or even all that serious.
Her conclusion: “Basically anyone who has COVID is at risk.”
That concern is shared by Dr. Colin Franz, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, who reviewed the findings.
While researchers try to define this problem, between 0.5% and 1% of non-hospitalized COVID patients develop at least one long-haul symptom, he said. “Given the vast number of people who had COVID worldwide, this represents millions of people,” Franz said.
In fact, most people who develop long-haul COVID issues were never that ill with COVID itself, he added.
“As someone who sees several post-COVID patients per week with persistent shortness of breath concerns, I am not surprised by these findings,” Franz said, “although I think many of my colleagues might be who don’t see a lot of post-COVID long-haulers.”
Franz said he was skeptical at first when he heard of persistent symptoms in patients whose COVID infection did not put them in the hospital.
“But my involvement in our post-COVID clinical rehabilitation program has convinced me this is a really common problem,” he added.
The new findings were published in the December issue of JACC: Heart Failure.
There’s more about long-haul COVID at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Donna Mancini, MD, professor, medicine, cardiology and population health science and policy, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; Colin Franz, MD, PhD, clinician-scientist, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and assistant professor, physical medicine and rehabilitation and neurology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; JACC: Heart Failure, December 2021