Low libido and hair loss are among an ‘extremely broad’ set of long Covid symptoms in people who were infected but not hospitalised with Covid-19, according to research.
The new study led by the University of Birmingham found that patients reported 62 symptoms – including hair loss and low libido – much more frequently to GPs in the 12 weeks after initial infection than patients who had not contracted the virus, confirming a broader range of long Covid symptoms than previously thought.
Senior author of the study Dr Shamil Haroon, from the University of Birmingham, said the research ‘validates’ patients who have said long Covid symptoms are ‘extremely broad’ and ‘cannot be fully accounted for by other factors such as lifestyle risk factors or chronic health conditions’.
The results were published in Nature Medicine.
Researchers analysed the anonymised electronic health records of 2.4 million people in the UK, taken between January 2020 and April 2021 – including 486,149 people with prior infection and 1,944,580 people with no indication of Covid infection after matching for other clinical diagnoses.
Symptoms can be grouped together into either respiratory symptoms, mental health and cognitive problems or a broader range of symptoms, they found.
The most common symptoms of long Covid include loss of smell, shortness of breath, chest pain and fever, they said. Other persistent symptoms experienced after infection included hair loss, ejaculation difficulty, reduced sex drive, fatigue, chest pain, hoarse voice and fever.
Long Covid risk factors
The study also found risk factors for long Covid symptoms included being female, belonging to an ethnic minority, socioeconomic deprivation, smoking, obesity and a range of comorbidities such as depression, anxiety, asthma, and hay fever.
The increased likelihood of women having long Covid seen in the analysis may be linked to evidence that women are more likely to experience autoimmune diseases.
Lead author Anuradhaa Subramanian from the University of Birmingham said: ‘Our data analyses of risk factors are of particular interest because it helps us to consider what could potentially be causing or contributing to long Covid.’
She continued: ‘We already know that certain modifiable traits such as smoking and obesity put people at increased risk of various diseases and conditions, including long Covid. However, others such as biological sex and ethnicity also appear to be important.’
Dr Haroon added: ‘I hope our research will further validate the voices of patients and involvement groups and provide an approach to support healthcare responses to new and emerging diseases.’
The researchers hope the study will narrow the focus on factors to investigate what may be causing these persistent symptoms after infection and how to best help patients experiencing them.
The additional symptoms associated with long Covid will also help clinicians and clinical guideline developers to improve the assessment and management of patients with long-term effects from Covid-19.
This comes after the RCN dubbed the withdrawal of Covid-19 sick pay and special leave for NHS staff in England ‘neglectful and unfair’ earlier this month.