Persistent COVID-19 symptoms may have other causes, study finds

Out of 20 persistent physical symptoms reported by adults recovering from COVID-19, only one was linked to the infection itself, a study published Nov. 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine found.

Researchers analyzed blood samples from 26,823 adult participants who reported recovering from COVID-19. Of all participants, 1,091 tested positive for antibodies, including 453 participants who later reported having had COVID-19 with 914 participants reporting they had COVID-19 prior to serology tests.

"Although our study did not assess long COVID per se because we also included participants without COVID-19 infection, these specific analyses may be more representative of the long COVID clinical issue in real-life settings than the picture provided by cohorts of patients with a laboratory-confirmed or physician-documented COVID-19 infection," researchers wrote.

Noted limitations to the study included selection biases that limit the representativeness of sample, lack of investigation into all reported symptoms of post COVID-19 and separate analysis of persistent symptoms. 

Researchers said the findings emphasize the importance of considering all possible causes of persistent symptoms in addition to the virus itself. 

Key findings: 

  • Most common persistent symptoms were sleep problems, joint pain and back pain.

  • Only loss of smell was positively linked to previous COVID-19 infection.

  • Self-reported infection was positively associated with lingering symptoms except for impaired hearing and sleep problems.

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