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Link between long COVID and history of anxiety disorders, study

A new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, has found that people with a history of anxiety disorders, and women more generally, are more likely to suffer from long COVID following a COVID-19 infection. The study also found “no evidence of persistent viral infection, autoimmunity, or abnormal immune activation” amongst those suffering from long COVID.

The study, titled A Longitudinal Study of COVID-19 Sequelae and Immunity: Baseline Findings, comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the US Department of Health, and was designed to “more objectively determine the long-term medical and mental health consequences of COVID-19,” given that existing research into long covid has “largely been based on questionnaire data and analysis of electronic medical records.”

Long Covid, which is also known as postacute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), characteristically involves the appearance or continuance of symptoms such as “fatigue, dyspnea, parosmia, concentration impairment, headache, memory impairment, insomnia, chest discomfort, and anxiety,” in the period following infection by COVID-19.

The study notes that “Abnormal findings on physical examination were less common than reported symptoms and did not correlate with the presence of specific symptoms…extensive diagnostic evaluation revealed no specific cause of reported symptoms in most cases”

The study says it was “unable to find evidence of ongoing systemic inflammation or immune activation” in those suffering from long COVID, and that, “these negative findings combined with the lack of objective evidence of tissue damage or organ dysfunction on diagnostic evaluations suggest that persistent, abnormal activation, if present, is not causing ongoing organ damage.”

Whilst the study does not directly say that the symptoms of long COVID appear likely to be psychosomatic in nature, in full or in part, the study did note that “the constellation of subjective symptoms in the absence of objective abnormalities on diagnostic evaluation resembles what has been described with other illnesses, including chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis, postinfection syndromes described after resolution of certain viral and bacterial infections, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.”

A number of limitations were noted within the study, most notably that the majority of participants “had mild to moderate initial illness that did not require hospitalization.” This, the study states, means that the study “may not represent the full spectrum and severity of PASC experienced by persons with severe disease requiring hospitalization.” It’s also noted that the study design “probably overestimated the prevalence of persistent post–COVID-19 symptoms because persons with PASC were likely more motivated to enroll.”

The sample size of the study was 189 people who had previously had COVID-19, with a control group of another 120 people. The full study can be read HERE.

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