Monday, October 2, 2023
HomeMDedge NewsLong COVID–Induced Activity Limitations Persist

Long COVID–Induced Activity Limitations Persist

Editor’s note: Find the latest long COVID news and guidance in Medscape’s Long COVID Resource Center.

Approximately one-quarter of adults who experience long COVID report activity limitations that do not change over time, based on data from national sample of nonhospitalized individuals.

Symptoms of long COVID, an ongoing medical condition that occurs in the wake of COVID-19 infection, include respiratory, neurologic, cardiovascular, or other complications that may last for weeks, months, or years after infection.

Current estimates of the incidence of long COVID in the United States range from 7.5% to 41%, according to Nicole D. Ford, PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues. Long COVID has shown a significant effect on patients’ quality of life, functional status, and ability to work, but the impact on activity limitation in particular has not been examined, the researchers said.

In a study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the researchers reviewed data from surveys conducted between June 1 and 13, 2022, and June 7 and 19, 2023. The data came from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS), a cross-sectional national survey designed to measure the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on U.S. households. Surveys were conducted in 2-week cycles (2 weeks on, 2 weeks off). Questions about long COVID were added to the survey beginning on June 1, 2022, and questions about activity limitations from long COVID were added on Sept. 14, 2022, including questions about participants’ abilities to perform daily activities before and after COVID-19 infection.

Overall, the prevalence of long COVID decreased from 7.5% to 6.0% in U.S. adults aged 18 years and older during the study period. However, when stratified by age group, the decline was significant only in adults older than 60 years, and 1 in 10 adults with a history of COVID-19 reported long COVID at the end of the study period.

Among respondents with long COVID, 26.4% of respondents for time period of June 7-19, 2023, reported significant activity limitations, which remained unchanged over time, with no clear pattern in activity limitations across age groups, the researchers said.

Prevalence of long COVID was highest for individuals in middle adulthood (aged 30-39 years, 40-49 years, and 50-59 years) and lowest for younger adults (18-29 years) and older adults (aged 60 years and older). The prevalence of long COVID decreased by 1.16% per survey cycle between the June 1-13 and Jan. 4-16 cycles, but then remained stable, with a decrease of 0.01% per cycle between June 1-13, 2022, and Jan. 4-16, 2023.

Previous studies have shown that activity limitations resulting from long COVID can significantly affect quality of life and functional status, as well as the ability to work or care for others. A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that quality of life scores among long COVID patients were similar to those of individuals with advanced cancer, and more than half of the long COVID patients reported moderately severe functional impairment. “The larger economic and societal impact of long COVID could be far-reaching if working-age adults are unable to maintain employment or care for children or aging parents,” the researchers said.

The current study findings were limited by several factors including potential coverage bias in the survey sample, the relatively low survey response rate, and the inability to collect data on duration of symptoms, COVID-19 vaccination status, treatment during acute infection, and time since COVID-19 illness; any of these factors could affect the reported prevalence of long COVID, the researchers noted.

However, the results suggest the need for continued attention to COVID-19 prevention efforts, including not only staying current with recommended COVID-19 vaccination, but also planning for symptom management and health care service needs of long COVID patients, they concluded.

More data are needed to tease out patterns

“Physicians and patients are still trying to understand long COVID and its implications for the health of affected individuals,” said Noel Deep, MD, in an interview.

The current study shows a prevalence of long COVID in approximately 11% of COVID patients, which is a significant number, said Dr. Deep, a general internist in private practice in Antigo, Wisc., who was not involved in the study. Dr. Deep also serves as chief medical officer and a staff physician at Aspirus Langlade Hospital in Antigo.

The study also was useful to illustrate a decline in the incidence of people affected by long COVID symptoms in the United States and in other countries, he said.

Dr. Deep noted that despite the persistent prevalence of long COVID symptoms overall, he was encouraged by the findings that older adults “who tend to have other underlying health conditions that could put them at a higher risk for adverse health outcomes” reported fewer long COVID symptoms than younger adults.

However, he noted that the high incidence of long COVID symptoms in able-bodied individuals in their 30s and 40s may affect their the economic situations as well as their ability to care for elderly relatives and children who might be dependent on them.

“Physicians and other clinicians should be aware of the symptoms and impacts caused by long COVID,” Dr. Deep said in an interview. “These individuals usually present with a myriad of vague and varying symptoms. Physicians should be cognizant of this situation, ask about previous infection with COVID-19, and utilize the resources of long COVID clinics where available,” he said.

Several factors can affect the assessment and management of patients with long COVID symptoms in primary care practices, said Dr. Deep. First and foremost are the time constraints of detailed evaluation and testing, he said.

Second, primary care clinicians need to be aware of the different symptoms that may be indicative of long COVID including fatigue, neurocognitive symptoms such as brain fog or memory disturbance, respiratory symptoms, and cardiovascular symptoms, as well as olfactory and gustatory symptoms. “These symptoms can be confounded by underlying health conditions, especially in elderly individuals,” he noted.

“Recommendations and guidelines are evolving regarding the evaluation and management of patients with long COVID that should help physicians and other clinicians in the future,” said Dr. Deep.

In the meantime, having a high index of suspicion, paying attention to the symptoms described by the patient, and taking a proper history with regard to previous COVID-19 infection should help overcome some of these challenges, he said.

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Deep had no financial conflicts to disclose and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Internal Medicine News.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

- Advertisment -

Most Popular