Fact file

Long Covid: the symptoms, the treatment and the people most at risk

‘First of its kind’ rehabilitation centre opens its doors in Leeds

A 12-week programme for sufferers of long Covid has launched in Leeds with the aim of helping the increasing number of patients recover from debilitating long-term symptoms.

The “first of its kind” scheme is being run by Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity, and “blends together physical therapy and mental health support” to treat the estimated one in ten people who suffer from long Covid after catching the virus, Leeds Live reports.

“Having initially been run as a pilot at four locations”, the programme “has launched across Nuffield Health fitness and wellbeing centres and will be expanded to over 40 locations by May”, the site adds.

“We know that many people living in Leeds have seen their quality of life seriously impacted by debilitating and lingering Covid-19 symptoms,” said rehabilitation specialist, Nicole Boardman. “We are delighted to launch this programme and I would encourage everyone who feels like they are suffering in silence to get in touch.”

What is long Covid?

Although not a medical term, “long Covid” is widely used to describe effects of Covid-19 that continue for weeks or months after the initial illness.

Research published in October suggests that up to 70% of patients hospitalised with Covid continue to have symptoms ranging from the physical to the neurological for at least five months after being released from care. 

The study by experts from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the University of Leicester - which has not yet been peer reviewed - also found that one in five patients with long Covid reach the threshold for being defined as having a “new disability”. 

A separate joint research project between the EU and UK last year that analysed screening results from 200 “low-risk” long Covid patients - “those who are relatively young and without any major underlying health complaints” - found that almost 70% had signs of “impairments in one or more organs, including the heart, lungs, liver and pancreas”, as The Guardian reported at the time.  

“The good news is that the impairment is mild, but even with a conservative lens, there is some impairment, and in 25% of people it affects two or more organs,” said study co-author Amitava Banerjee, a cardiologist and associate professor of clinical data science at University College London.

What are the main symptoms?

According to NHS, symptoms of long Covid can include: 

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • joint pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes
Who is at risk? 

Studies on the risk factors for long Covid are ongoing, but research by teams from King’s College London and the University of Leicester suggests high-risk groups include: 

  • Covid patients who experienced more than five symptoms during the first week of infection 
  • White women aged between 40 and 60 who have at least two long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, lung or heart disease
  • People with a higher than average BMI
  • People who suffer from asthma 
How long does recovery take?

Researchers from King’s College London have found that while most Covid patients recover within 11 days, some take considerably longer. An analysis of data on 4,182 patients who logged their symptoms into a Covid Symptom Study app revealed that:

  • One in seven (13%) of the patients was ill for at least four weeks
  • One in 20 (4.5%) was ill for at least eight weeks
  • One in 50 (2.3%) was ill for at least 12 weeks

The study authors add that these are “conservative” estimates, which “may underestimate the extent of long Covid”.

How is it treated?

Anyone who thinks they may be suffering from the symptoms of long Covid should contact their GP. 

In October last year, the government announced that £10m would be invested “to help kick start and designate long Covid clinics in every area across England”. The clinics provide “joined-up care” for the range of physical, neurological and mental-health symptoms associated with the condition, bringing together doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

By May 2021, investment in long Covid clinics by NHS England had reached £34m with 83 centres operating across the country. Today, Dr Kiren Collison, chair of the National Long Covid Taskforce, warned that the specialist clinics may be needed beyond April 2022, exceeding current funding. “We need to learn and look at what the demand [for the clinics] is,” he told Sky News. “We haven't put a lifespan on them… I'm expecting this to last longer but let's continue to learn and see what the researchers say.”

Alongside long Covid clinics, the NHS has launched a Your Covid Recovery website where patients can get access to tailored programmes to help manage symptoms and track their recovery progress.

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