Northwestern Medicine has treated 4,000 long COVID-19 patients: Here's what it has learned

Since establishing its Comprehensive COVID-19 Center in May 2020, Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine has treated nearly 4,000 patients who have experienced lingering issues after a bout with the virus. Today, the center continues to see high demand for patient appointments. 

"The COVID-19 public health emergency may be over, but the need for long COVID care remains," Igor Koralnik, MD, co-director of Northwestern Medicine's Comprehensive COVID-19 Center, said in a July 13 news release shared with Becker's. "Our team of 42 clinicians continues to see approximately 100 patients each month," said Dr. Koralnik, who is also chief of neuroinfectious diseases and global neurology at the health system. 

On July 13, Northwestern experts shared findings from their study of 1,802 patients seen at the COVID-19 center in the first 21 months of the pandemic. Patients were evaluated a median of eight months after initial disease onset. Sixty-five percent were women and the average age at first clinic visit was 47. 

Four findings from the study: 

  • Neurology, pulmonology and cardiology were the most commonly sought specialties among patients seeking care for persistent symptoms. While the study period went through February 2022, those specialties continue to be in high demand, according to Northwestern Medicine physicians. 
  • Eight-five percent of patients reported decreased quality of life. 
  • About half of patients had cognitive impairment, 45 percent had altered lung function and 83 percent had abnormal CT chest scans. About 12 percent had abnormally elevated heart rates on rhythm monitoring.
  • The severity of acute COVID-19 was associated with the frequency of cognitive impairment and pulmonary dysfunction.

"One of the key findings of this study is that there is a very wide range of long COVID manifestations that depend largely on the severity of acute COVID-19 illness, and that they can't be treated with a 'one size fits all' approach," Dr. Koralnik said. "Some patients who had severe COVID-19 may have sustained permanent organ damage, while persistent symptoms in those with mild initial disease may be caused by different mechanisms. This requires an individualized, precision medicine approach to long COVID care." 

Read the full study in the American Journal of Medicine here


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