Coronavirus patients still suffering from complications three months later, study finds

Participants in North Bristol NHS Trust’s Discover project reported symptoms such as breathlessness, excessive fatigue and muscle aches 

Samuel Lovett
Thursday 20 August 2020 07:32 BST
World nowhere near immunity levels to stop coronavirus transmission, warns WHO

Patients hospitalised with Covid-19 are suffering from complications three months after being first discharged, a new study has shown.

Out of 110 patients who had been treated at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, almost three quarters (81) were still experiencing symptoms such as breathlessness, excessive fatigue and muscle aches when invited back for check-ups.

Many were also suffering from poor quality of life compared to the rest of the population – struggling to carry out daily tasks such as washing, dressing or going back to work.

Most of the patients did report improvements in their initial symptoms of fever, cough and loss of sense of smell, while in the majority of cases there was no evidence of lung scarring or reductions in lung function.

The findings are part of the preliminary results of the North Bristol NHS Trust’s Discover project, which is studying the longer-term effects of coronavirus.

Separate data from the Covid Symptom Study app, downloaded more than 3 million times, suggests a “significant number” of people report symptoms for a month. Between one in 10-20 report complications for longer than that.

These individuals, who have come together to form Facebook groups and share their stories, have been described as “long-haulers”, and the reasons behind their prolonged complications remains a mystery to both themselves and the doctors treating them.

“There’s still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects of coronavirus, but this study has given us vital new insight into what challenges patients may face in their recovery and will help us prepare for those needs,” said Dr Rebecca Smith, deputy director of research and innovation at North Bristol NHS Trust.

“We’re pleased that researchers at Southmead Hospital are leading the way and hope our findings can help patients and their GPs understand the course of post-Covid illness and the role of routine tests.”

The study is due to continue in the months ahead, with researchers collaborating with the University of Bristol to look at participant blood tests, rehabilitation therapies and psychological support.

Dr David Arnold, who is leading the Discover project, said: “This research helps to describe what many coronavirus patients have been telling us: they are still breathless, tired, and not sleeping well months after admission.

“Reassuringly, however, abnormalities on X-rays and breathing tests are rare in this group. Further work in the Discover project will help us to understand why this is, and how we can help coronavirus sufferers.”

A total of 163 patients with coronavirus were recruited to the study, which was funded by the Southmead Hospital Charity, and of those 19 died.

The remainder were invited for a three-month check-up and 110 attended.

Most (74 per cent) had persistent symptoms – notably breathlessness and excessive fatigue – with reduced health-related quality of life.

Only patients who required oxygen therapy in hospital had abnormal radiology, clinical examination or spirometry at follow-up.

Last month, it was announced that the government would be providing £8.4m in funding for the Phosp-Covid study, a UK-wide consortium led by researchers at the University of Leicester, that will investigate the long-term health outcomes of the disease.

Around 10,000 patients are expected to take part, making it the largest study of its kind in the world, while expertise will be drawn from a wide range of leading researchers and clinicians who will come together to adopt an “holistic” approach in attempting to understand SARS-CoV-2.

People like Helen Ducker, a bakery owner from Bolton who was hospitalised with Covid-19 in March before going on to suffer months of complications, will be the focus of the study.

“My life has been completely hindered,” she told The Independent. “The doctors don’t know what to do with you. It’s headaches, brain fog, pains all over your body, pins and needles and numbness in your arms, legs, hands and feet.

“Then there’s the fatigue. I’m used to the fatigue with my Crohn’s and arthritis but I’ve never known fatigue like this. It’s debilitating. It’s like walking through quicksand.

“It’s a constant fear you’re going to be stuck like this.”

Additional reporting by PA

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