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Persistence of at least one symptom in almost 90% of recovered COVID-19 Italian patients

In Italy, a large proportion of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) presented with symptoms (71.4% of 31 845 confirmed cases as of 3 June, 2020). 2020. Common symptoms include cough, fever, dyspnoea, musculoskeletal symptoms (myalgia, joint pain, fatigue), gastrointestinal symptoms, and anosmia/dysgeusia. However, information is lacking on symptoms that persist after recovery. We assessed persistent symptoms in patients who were discharged from the hospital after recovery from COVID-19.

This study found that in patients who had recovered from COVID-19, 87.4% reported persistence of at least 1 symptom, particularly fatigue and dyspnea.

Methods: In the waning phase of the pandemic, beginning on April 21, 2020, the Fondazione Policlinico Universitario Agostino Gemelli IRCCS in Rome, Italy, established a postacute outpatient service for individuals discharged from the hospital after recovery from COVID-19. All patients who met World Health Organisation criteria for discontinuation of quarantine (no fever for 3 consecutive days, improvement in other symptoms, and 2 negative test results for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 [SARS-CoV-2] 24 hours apart) were followed up. At enrollment in the study, real-time reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction for SARS-CoV-2 was performed and patients with a negative test result were included.
Patients were offered a comprehensive medical assessment with detailed history and physical examination. Data on all clinical characteristics, including clinical and pharmacological history, lifestyle factors, vaccination status, and body measurements, were collected in a structured electronic data collection system. The COVID-19 postacute outpatient service is currently active, and further details about the patient evaluation protocol are described elsewhere.5
In particular, data on specific symptoms potentially correlated with COVID-19 were obtained using a standardized questionnaire administered at enrollment. Patients were asked to retrospectively recount the presence or absence of symptoms during the acute phase of COVID-19 and whether each symptom persisted at the time of the visit. More than 1 symptom could be reported. The EuroQol visual analog scale was used to ask patients to score their quality of life from 0 (worst imaginable health) to 100 (best imaginable health) before COVID-19 and at the time of the visit. A difference of 10 points defined worsened quality of life. All analyses were performed using R version 3.6.3 (R Foundation).
This study was approved by the Università Cattolica and Fondazione Policlinico Gemelli IRCCS Institutional Ethics Committee. Written informed consent was obtained from all participants.
Results: From April 21 to May 29, 2020, 179 patients were potentially eligible for the follow-up post–acute care assessment; 14 individuals (8%) refused to participate and 22 had a positive test result. Thus, 143 patients were included. The mean age was 56.5 (SD, 14.6) years (range, 19-84 years), and 53 (37%) were women. During hospitalization, 72.7% of participants had evidence of interstitial pneumonia. The mean length of hospital stay was 13.5 (SD, 9.7) days; 21 patients (15%) received noninvasive ventilation and 7 patients (5%) received invasive ventilation. The characteristics of the study population are summarized in the Table.
Patients were assessed a mean of 60.3 (SD, 13.6) days after onset of the first COVID-19 symptom; at the time of the evaluation, only 18 (12.6%) were completely free of any COVID-19–related symptom, while 32% had 1 or 2 symptoms and 55% had 3 or more. None of the patients had fever or any signs or symptoms of acute illness. Worsened quality of life was observed among 44.1% of patients. The Figure shows that a high proportion of individuals still reported fatigue (53.1%), dyspnea (43.4%), joint pain, (27.3%) and chest pain (21.7%).
Discussion: This study found that in patients who had recovered from COVID-19, 87.4% reported persistence of at least 1 symptom, particularly fatigue and dyspnea. Limitations of the study include the lack of information on symptom history before acute COVID-19 illness and the lack of details on symptom severity. Furthermore, this is a single-center study with a relatively small number of patients and without a control group of patients discharged for other reasons. Patients with community-acquired pneumonia can also have persistent symptoms, suggesting that these findings may not be exclusive to COVID-19.6

Clinicians and researchers have focused on the acute phase of COVID-19, but continued monitoring after discharge for long-lasting effects is needed.

[link url="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2768351"]Research letter[/link]

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