Study narrows down long COVID to just 12 symptoms

Science and Health

After years of trying to diagnose exactly what long COVID is, recent research has narrowed it down to just a handful of symptoms. Whereas previously there were over 200 symptoms thought to be linked to long COVID, there is now a clearly defined list of the 12 most common and consistent ones.

Ever since the coronavirus first became a global health crisis, reports of chronic and long-term effects post-infection have become more widespread. These symptoms include “brain fog,” fatigue, and a loss of smell. The severity of these symptoms would vary from somewhat mild to severe and debilitating. 

The only criteria for diagnosing long COVID were persistent symptoms, recurrence, or new symptoms that appeared 30 days or more post-infection.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that there are over 200 different symptoms linked to long COVID. But now, a collaboration of American researchers managed to look at the patient data of nearly 10,000 people, 8,646 of them previously infected with COVID and 1,118 of them without. From there, they analyzed each person and made a list of the most reported systems, scoring each one based on how closely they related to COVID-19.

The results of this study, published in the journal JAMA, highlighted 12 of the most common symptoms associated with long COVID. 

SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (illustrative). (credit: PIXABAY)

Long COVID symptoms: What’s at the top of the list?

At the top of the list with the highest possible score is a loss of smell or taste, a defining symptom of COVID due to the disease’s ability to affect nerve cells. Coming in second is post-exertional malaise, meaning feeling fatigued after physical or mental activity. Chronic coughing comes in third.

However, there is a large gap between the second and third symptoms, indicating that the first two are far more common and more likely to be long COVID.

The full list is as follows:

  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Post-exertional malaise
  • Chronic cough
  • Brain fog
  • Thirst
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Dizziness
  • Digestive system problems
  • Tremors