One in five adult COVID-19 survivors have a health condition that may be related to the virus

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Stethoscope and wooden blocks with wording "LONG COVID"

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows people who survive COVID-19 are significantly more likely to have certain health complications than those who have no evidence of ever having COVID-19. These types of lingering health complications linked to a COVID-19 infection are commonly referred to as Long COVID.

COVID-19 is a new disease, and we are still learning what the long-term consequences are. This analysis highlights the importance of practicing preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated and boosted and wearing a well-fitting mask in crowded indoor settings. Additionally, it’s important, especially for people age 65 and older, to monitor for post-COVID-19 symptoms and to seek routine care  after infection.

The CDC study included data from 2 million participants ages 18 and up – 353,165 patients who had been infected with COVID-19, and 1,640,776 people (control group) who had never been diagnosed with COVID-19. Researchers specifically looked for patterns of 26 conditions, including complications related to the cardiovascular, neurological, endocrine, gastrointestinal and other systems.

Some of the study’s key findings

  • One in five COVID-19 survivors ages 18-64 experienced at least one health complication that may be a result of COVID-19.
  • One in four COVID-19 survivors age 65 and older experienced at least one health complication that may be a result of COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 survivors age 65 and older were at higher risk for all 26 conditions compared to the control group.
  • COVID-19 survivors ages 18-64 were at higher risk for 22 out of 26 conditions compared to the control group.
  • COVID-19 survivors in both age groups had twice the risk of developing a respiratory condition or a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot that travels to the lung).
  • Respiratory symptoms and musculoskeletal pain (joint and muscle pain) were the two most common conditions in both age groups.

The findings are consistent with other large studies that indicate 20-30% of patients experience health complications after COVID-19 infection, according to the CDC. In a recent article, we highlighted large-scale studies of United States veterans that found potential links between COVID-19 infection and diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and strokes.

Evidence is building that the long-term health impact of being infected with COVID-19 will be significant. Prevention remains the best way to avoid  negative outcomes. Vaccinations and a well-fitting mask slow the spread of COVID-19. While vaccination reduces the severity of COVID-19 illness, it is not yet known how much it reduces the likelihood of long-term health consequences.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is incredibly contagious and will continue to infect large numbers of people even when taking precautions. If you have been infected with COVID-19 or are in the future, it’s important to monitor any changes in your health and to seek routine care to diagnose any health complications early. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your health care provider. If you do not have a health care provider, call 211.