Indiana researchers warn of long-term symptoms of COVID-19

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INDIANAPOLIS — Researchers are racing to learn more about COVID-19 to better understand how to treat those who test positive for the virus.

An Indianapolis doctor explained that shortness of breath, fever and a cough are the most common symptoms among patients in the hospital, but there are other symptoms causing him concern.

“Some patients, especially older adults, get symptoms which are different than these symptoms. Some would feel tired, not feeling motivated and most important of them is feeling confused or feeling like the brain is not working properly,” said Dr. Babar Khan, associate professor of medicine.

“Those are the symptoms that make us worried about patients who are not having typical features.”

Dr. Khan works in the intensive care unit at Eskenazi and IU Health hospitals in Indianapolis. He said they are seeing a number of patients are coming to the emergency department after experiencing confusion.

“The rates of delirium among patients admitted to the ICU are up to 80% in the ICU,” he said. “The historical rates were 40% in the intensive care unit, so COVID-19 patients have doubled the rate of delirium compared to historical controls.”

Dr. Khan is a researcher with a principal focus on developing a biomarker profile among delirious patients in the ICU to predict their long-term cognitive, physical and psychological morbidity. He’s concerned COVID-19 patients who struggle with delirium could develop cognition problems for years, based on previous research on delirium.

A fraction of people who test positive for COVID-19 end up in the hospital. But even in cases that are not severe enough for the hospital, researchers worry about how the virus will impact a person’s health in the long term.

“Once you see the data, there is no turning back from being concerned,” said Dr. Natalie Lambert, associate research professor at the IU School of Medicine.

Lambert recently collected surveys from more than 5,600 people around the world to learn what symptoms they experienced after contracting COVID-19.

She is collaborating with other researchers to analyze the data. Lambert said they are finding many of these symptoms can start just a couple days or a couple weeks after people get the virus, but they can last for many weeks and months.

So far, Lambert’s survey shows fatigue, headache and shortness of breath were the top three symptoms. 52% of respondents said they had difficulty concentrating or focusing. 38% had memory problems. Participants reported more than 100 symptoms.

“There were definitely a lot of heart problems that people reported,” she said.

A few months ago, Lambert published a survey done in collaboration with Survivor Corps. Survivor Corps posted an open Facebook poll asking members to indicate all of their long-term COVID-19 symptoms. Participants identified 98 unique long-term COVID-19 symptoms, 26.5% of which are typically painful symptoms, with a large portion of symptoms affecting the brain, nervous system and whole body.

Lambert thinks they will do another wave of surveys in a month or two to see if any symptoms have changed.

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