32% of older adults develop new medical conditions after COVID-19

Nearly a third — 32 percent — of adults 65 and older infected with COVID-19 in 2020 developed at least one new condition that required medical attention in the months after initial infection, finds a study published Feb. 9 by The British Medical Journal.

Researchers used records from the UnitedHealth Group Clinical Research Database to identify 133,366 individuals 65 or older who were diagnosed with COVID-19 before April 1, 2020. All individuals were enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan with coverage of prescription drugs.

Researchers matched individuals to three non-COVID comparison groups from 2020 and 2019 and a group diagnosed with viral lower respiratory tract illness. Researchers worked to identify frequency and severity of new conditions, known as sequelae. 

Four findings:

1. Among individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, 32 percent sought medical attention in the post-acute period for one or more new or persistent clinical sequelae, which was 11 percent higher than in the 2020 comparison group. 

2. Respiratory failure, fatigue, hypertension, memory difficulties, kidney injury, mental health diagnoses, hypercoagulability and cardiac rhythm disorders had the greatest risk differences between the COVID-19 group and the 2020 and 2019 comparison groups. 

3. Compared with the group with viral lower respiratory tract illness, only respiratory failure, dementia and post-viral fatigue had increased risk differences for the COVID-19 group.

4. Individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 had a markedly increased risk for most — but not all — conditions. The risk of several conditions was also increased for men, Black people and those 75 and older.


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