Study on long COVID is looking at ‘the top of the iceberg’
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A National Institute of Health-funded study is publishing findings on long COVID, results a Madison area doctor says are just scratching the surface on the virus and its long-term effects on some patients.
“Well, I think it helps define what long covid is,” said SSM Health’s regional vice president of ambulatory clinical programs, Dr. David Ottenbaker.
The study released at the end of May involved gathering data on nearly 10,000 participants for over six months, an effort coordinated through Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery or RECOVER. The initiative is receiving over $1.15 billion in government funding over the next four years. The researchers identified several data points on long COVID.
“What we do now is that it appears to be more prevalent in people who are unvaccinated when they had the disease and also before Omicron,” said Dr. Ottenbaker. “Symptoms are quite variable depending on each patient. It can be anything from heart palpitations to brain fog to fatigue to GI symptoms; it really runs the gamut of every organ system in the body.”
Dr. Ottenbaker says patients with long COVID carry the symptoms for six months or longer. In the research, it says an estimated 10% percent of U.S. adults with the virus have long COVID. The study identified 12 symptoms that most set apart those with and without long COVID, including a chronic cough, fatigue, and brain fog. Participants were given a score based on symptom combinations. But it is noted more than 30 symptoms were identified among the participants.
Despite the new information from the study and some of the symptoms identified, Dr. Ottenbaker says it has yet to change how patients are treated, adding symptoms are still treated on a specific basis as they are found. For people with long COVID, he says maintaining a healthy lifestyle is still the best defense.
“Make sure that you keep connecting with your health professional so that you can continue to be monitored and hopefully get some symptoms early,” said Dr. Ottenbaker.
He says the study is just “looking at the top of the iceberg” and there is still much to learn. He notes questions such as how long symptoms will last, if they manifest into others, and how long it will take to truly get a handle on COVID remain unanswered.
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