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80% of COVID-19 Patients Have This Symptom, Says Study

It's far more than previously estimated.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
woman feeling sick and seasonal flu symptoms

Eighty percent of people who've had COVID-19 find themselves in a similar situation: With lingering symptoms weeks after their illness should have run its course. A meta-analysis of studies found that eight out of ten coronavirus patients had symptoms 15 days or more after their infection. The five most common symptoms were fatigue (58%), headache (44%), attention disorder (27%), hair loss (25%) and dyspnea, or difficulty breathing (24%). Read on to find out if you're at any risk—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

You May Develop "One or More Long-Term Symptoms"

For months, doctors and patients have been warning about the prevalence of COVID-19 "long-haulers," or people who still have symptoms of the disease for weeks or months after the virus has technically cleared the body. Strategies for helping these patients are few, and the new study suggests the phenomenon could be more widespread than previously believed.

"We estimated that a total 80% of the patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 developed one or more long-term symptoms," study co-author Sonia Villapol, PhD, of Houston Methodist Research Institute in Texas, told MedPage Today. "Preventive measures, rehabilitation techniques, and clinical management strategies designed to address prevalent long-term effects of COVID-19 are urgently needed."

The meta-analysis, which was posted on a pre-print server this week, looked at 15 studies involving 47,910 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 which had monitored the patients' condition two or more weeks after infection. 

Fatigue was the most common and longest-lasting symptom. "It is present even after 100 days of the first symptom of acute COVID-19," the study's authors wrote.

Thirty-four percent of the patients studied had an abnormal chest X-ray or CT scan at some point during their follow-up.

RELATED: 7 Tips You Must Follow to Avoid COVID, Say Doctors

Study Reflects, Contradicts Earlier Research

The scientists' findings about symptoms are similar to what's been reported by other studies, including the Long Hauler Symptom Survey, in which 100% of "long COVID" patients reported lingering fatigue and 65% said they had difficulty breathing. And researchers with the UK's COVID Symptom Study called headache a "dark horse" among early coronavirus symptoms.

But the results are quite different than earlier estimates of the overall prevalence of long COVID. A CDC study released last summer found that 35% of outpatients with mild illness still hadn't regained their full health two to three weeks after being infected.  

The scientists behind the new study called for more research, and for doctors to develop solutions for the care of long COVID care patients. "Given that COVID-19 is a new disease, it is not possible to determine how long these effects will last," they wrote.

RELATED: 5 Sure Ways to Avoid COVID Now, According to a Doctor

How to survive this pandemic

As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.