People suffering from long COVID-19 experience lingering negative effects on their physical, mental and social well-being in ways similar to symptoms endured by patients who are sick with other illnesses, according to UCLA research published Thursday.
The findings, published in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open, are based on a comparison of people known to have been infected with COVID with individuals with similar symptoms who tested negative for the respiratory disease. The researchers found that 40% of the COVID-positive and 54% of the COVID-negative group reported moderate-to-severe residual symptoms three months after enrolling in the study.
“Many diseases, including COVID, can lead to symptoms negatively impacting one’s sense of well-being lasting months after initial infection, which is what we saw here,” said lead author Lauren Wisk, assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
“Because these changes look similar for COVID- and COVID+ participants, this suggests the experience of the pandemic itself, and related stress, may be playing a role in slowing peoples’ recovery from any illness.”
The study included people both with acute COVID and without COVID — but sick with other illness — to examine the impact of COVID on one’s well-being, also compared with the general population, Wisk said.
“We found that, as far as well-being is concerned, COVID-positive and COVID-negative groups look more similar than different, but both still have worse well-being scores than the general population,” she said.
The study’s 1,000 participants were 18 years of age or older. Overall, those who tested positive for COVID had self-reported physical and mental health symptoms three months after infection that were similar to those who became ill with other, non-COVID illnesses during the pandemic. The COVID-positive group, however, experienced better improvements in their social well-being than did the COVID-negative group, according to the study.
The findings highlight the importance of comparing COVID-positive and COVID-negative people to assess the impact of the disease on the population, UCLA said.
“Most other studies on long COVID do not have such a control group,” said Dr. Joann Elmore, the study’s co-senior author and a professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the Geffen School of Medicine.
“Researchers and doctors now have a better understanding of well-being outcomes related to COVID-19 as a result of this study,” said Elmore, who is also the principal investigator at the UCLA site.
“The findings highlight the potential widespread impact of the pandemic on our overall health, including the lesser-tracked emotional, social, and mental aspects, alongside the highly recognized physical effects,” she said.