‘Long Covid’ sufferers experience prolonged fatigue months after infection, new study finds

Some people who experienced a ‘mild’ infection of Covid-19 are suffering long-lasting symptoms months after contracting the virus, known as ‘long Covid’.

New research, led by Keele University’s Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, looked at the experiences of 24 patients who continue to suffer prolonged symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, muscle and joint pains, headaches, cognitive impairment known as ‘brain fog’, and fatigue.

The research, published in the British Journal of General Practice Open, involved analysis of interviews conducted with people who were suffering from ‘long Covid’. The research team, including Dr Tom Kingstone, Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at Keele, conducted this qualitative study, interviewing people with ‘long Covid’ recruited using social media.

The participants explained how the virus had left them feeling extreme levels of fatigue, with the wife of one 67-year old man, who had coronavirus in March, commenting:

“He was sleeping for about 20 hours a day, 20 hours out of every 24 and he’s still sleeping now, five and half months after, he still sleeps an awful lot, sat up, not lay down, sat up, he’s just totally exhausted.”

Some participants spoke about the difficulties accessing healthcare, with others describing the frustration they felt in seeking a GP that believed their symptoms.

The study aims to raise awareness among primary care professionals of ‘long Covid’ and the range of symptoms experienced, to help GPs provide appropriate support for patients seeking care.

Professor Chew-Graham, Professor of General Practice from Keele’s School of Medicine, said: “As a GP, I became aware of patients presenting in late spring 2020 with symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, rashes and ‘brain fog’.

“It is vital that GPs recognise this condition and offer support, investigation and ongoing care.”

Four main themes are described in the paper: the ‘hard and heavy work’ of enduring and managing symptoms, trying to find answers, and accessing care; living with uncertainty and fear; the importance of finding the 'right' GP; and recovery and rehabilitation: what would help?

Professor Chew-Graham has also co-authored a new Royal College of General Practitioners e-learning training module as part of their Recovery from Covid-19 course to help GPs understand the long-term effects of Covid-19 on patients.