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‘I feel abandoned’: Women share ordeal of having long Covid

Research shows women in 50s at highest risk of long Covid 

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Tuesday 24 November 2020 15:21 GMT
A study by King’s College London last month found one in 20 people with coronavirus is likely to endure symptoms for eight weeks or more
A study by King’s College London last month found one in 20 people with coronavirus is likely to endure symptoms for eight weeks or more

“I find the wheelchair quite upsetting,” Clare Frances tells The Independent. “It is a huge change to my life. I don’t know when I will walk again. I spent five months in the house and didn’t leave once apart from to go to hospital in an ambulance.”

The 47-year-old’s life has dramatically changed since she first contracted coronavirus. Most people recover from coronavirus infections within a fortnight but for some it can be much, much longer. Ms Francis, who first contracted the virus in March, is still feeling the effects eight months later.

Women aged between 50 and 60 have been found to be at the highest risk of developing long Covid after catching the virus, with a recent study by King’s College London finding that women in this age bracket were eight times more likely than 18- to 30-year-olds to endure long-term coronavirus symptoms.

Symptoms of long Covid, a term that refers to people who experience symptoms of Covid-19 for longer than the two weeks identified as typical by the World Health Organisation, span from being out of breath and feeling unusually tired to struggling to concentrate, and having muscle aches, joint pain, “brain fog”, memory loss, respiratory and cardiovascular problems and depression.

“The coronavirus was reasonably bad but I wasn’t in hospital,” Ms Frances, who lives in West Sussex, says. “I have had worse cases of flu. I was in bed for eight days. It gradually faded but I was left with fatigue and shortness of breath and left feeling really unwell. The worst thing is that I can’t exert myself without it affecting my breathing. I can only walk for two minutes before my breathing starts to get bad.”

Ms Frances is an English tutor for GCSE, A-Level and degree-level students, but has not been able to continue with her work via Zoom because of problems with her breathing.

“Walking or exercising or bending over a lot, I can’t really do,” she adds. “If I do try and practice walking in short bursts for two minutes, I have to lie down as I’m so tired. It makes the shortness of breath get really bad if I do overdo it by two minutes. Suddenly the next day I’m even shorter of breath and that can last for a week which is quite scary.”

Clare Frances  (Clare Frances)

Ms Frances says she has moved in with her partner full-time while she suffers from long Covid, and he now has to do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry and putting the bins out.

“I don’t like him having to walk me around in the wheelchair,” she says. “It’s not very sexy to not able to do stuff and be ill all the time. It’s not good for the self-esteem. In a way, it has brought us closer, but I want my independence back. He is like my carer. In a relationship, that is tough.”

She explains how at the beginning, she had struggled to get doctors to believe she was suffering with long Covid.

“Long covid has been in the news so much but the first time I spoke to a GP, it was like he had never heard of it,” Ms Frances says. “They have been horrible about it – I had two doctors who completely dismissed me. Then there was a female doctor who was much better but she’s hardly ever there. It is a battle to get them to take me seriously and to push forward with any treatment.”

She claims her local GP practice refused to give her a wheelchair so she has instead been forced to borrow a very old “rickety and rusty” one from a friend.

“I feel abandoned and neglected. There will be a lot of people with long Covid in the same boat, who are already sick, and don’t need the stress of having to chase doctors and not be believed. If you are coming in as a woman, you are already less believed in relation to your health problems.”

The King’s College London study last month found one in 20 people with coronavirus is likely to endure symptoms for eight weeks or more, which is equivalent to hundreds of thousands of patients in the UK.

Researchers, who examined data from 4,182 people who used the Covid Symptom Study app, discovered women aged under 50 were 50 per cent more likely to suffer long Covid – sometimes referred to as long-haul or long-tail Covid – compared with men.

Tim Spector, the study’s lead scientist, tells The Independent the “most likely explanation” for women in their 50s being at highest risk of long Covid is "due to a mixture of age and hormonal and gut effects on the immune system”. 

Rebecca Levene, from London, says she has been suffering from long Covid since contracting coronavirus just before the first lockdown back in March.

“I never seemed to properly recover from it,” the 51-year-old tells The Independent. “I didn’t get better. I’d get extreme tiredness, aching joints and ongoing occasionally very severe digestive issues. The tiredness is the thing. Housework wipes me out for the week. I try to go for walks but they wipe me out.”

Ms Levene says her symptoms are gradually improving but her digestive issues are not getting any better, adding the ordeal has badly affected her mental health.

The digestive issues have made her anxious about leaving the house and it is a struggle to complete her writing which is difficult as both her “living and identity” are “tied up” in the work, she says.

“The digestive issues limit how much I can leave the house,” she adds. “The symptoms of exhaustion manifest as oversleep. I will be sitting there and then fall asleep in a chair. It feels like someone has given me a sedative like Xanax. I just cannot stay awake. I have heavy limbs and can’t stir myself. It can happen after I‘ve overexerted myself. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.”

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