Seven in 10 patients who were hospitalised due to coronavirus suffer from continued symptoms more than seven weeks after being discharged.
Researchers say so-called ‘long Covid’ is a very real issue and needs looking at more closely so medical experts can learn to treat it in the long-term.
Dr Swapna Mandal, an honorary clinical associate professor at the University College London division of medicine, said: ‘Patients whose Covid-19 illness is serious enough for them to require hospital care often continue to suffer significant symptoms for many weeks after their discharge.’
In the study published in the medical journal Thorax, researchers set up a post-Covid follow up clinic to review both the psychological and physiological symptoms of discharged patients.
The study found 54 days after leaving hospital, 69% of patients were still experiencing fatigue, and 53% were suffering from persistent breathlessness. It also found 34% still had a cough and 15% reported depression.
Professor John Hurst, from the University College London division of medicine, said: ‘Understanding “long Covid” is critical in helping people who have been through this life-changing experience return to health, while rapid roll-out of this follow-up service shows how our clinical teams worked together to deliver an innovative service during a period of unprecedented demand on our staff.’
The study, which was carried out between clinicians at the Royal Free London and University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, found 38% of x-rays remained abnormal and 9% were getting worse.
In total, researchers observed 384 patients who had tested positive and had been treated at Barnet Hospital, the Royal Free Hospital or UCLH.
The average length of stay in hospital across these patients was 6.5 days.
All of the patients were called or seen in person by a member of the team on average 54 days after they left hospital, but some further face-to-face appointments were required for people who needed further investigation or rehabilitation.
The research suggests that for the patients whose chest x-ray was still showing signs of infection when they were discharged, 62% had a normal x-ray when it was later repeated. But the remainder were still showing changes.
And the study found almost one in ten (9%) of these patients had an x-ray which was worse than when they were discharged.
The scientists said there were a number of limitations to their study, such as how it only included patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and the patients who stayed in hospital for a long time may be under-represented in the analysis.
They add that not all participants were willing to take part in the review or attend for investigations, which potentially introduced selection bias.
The researchers say they cannot determine if these features are unique to Covid-19. They may simply be similar to those following admission for other critical respiratory illnesses.