The coronavirus is a wildy unpredictable illness, which can make getting infected a pretty scary circumstance. It can show up without symptoms, or put you in the hospital. But even if you emerge from your infection unscathed, unfortunately, for many COVID survivors the virus lingers in disruptive ways. Known colloquially as "long COVID," the condition known as post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) has been heavily discussed over the last year, as some of those afflicted seem to experience long-term coronavirus symptoms that aren't going away. Now, new research has found that a significant amount of COVID survivors experience one long-term symptom in particular. Read on to find out what one in four people who've had COVID have in common.
About one in four people experience sleep disturbance after having COVID.
In a new meta-analysis, published in a pre-printed version May 4 on medRxiv, a team of international researchers analyzed data from 51 studies published between Jan. 2020 and Feb. 2021 where the average long COVID follow-up was 77 days after infection. Nearly 19,000 individuals were included collectively in the research analyzed. What the researchers found was that the most common long-term neuropsychiatric symptom was sleep disturbance, with 27.4 percent (around one in four COVID survivors) experiencing it months after they were infected with the virus.
COVID infection also often results in other similar long-term symptoms, like brain fog and anxiety.
The researchers also found other prevalent neuropsychiatric symptoms in people with long COVID. According to their findings, the second most common neuropsychiatric symptom following sleep disturbance was fatigue, with 24.4 percent of patients reporting it. The data also showed that 20.2 percent experienced cognitive impairment (brain fog), 19.1 percent experienced anxiety, and 15.7 percent experienced post-traumatic stress as long-term COVID symptoms.
Other neurological symptoms such as a loss of taste, headache, sensorimotor disturbance, and dizziness/vertigo were less common but still "present in non-negligible amounts," according to the researchers.
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You can experience neuropsychiatric symptoms even if your COVID case was mild.
Your likelihood of having any of these long-term neuropsychiatric symptoms doesn't appear to be based on the severity of your COVID infection. In fact, the researchers found no difference in neuropsychiatric symptoms reported by hospitalized patients compared to non-hospitalized—except for anxiety, which was reported more frequently by non-hospitalized patients.
They also found that there was no difference in the prevalence of neuropsychiatric symptoms for hospitalized patients who required ICU compared to those who did not. "The prevalence of these symptoms appears to be relatively stable across different points in the first six months, between hospitalized and community samples, and among hospitalized patients regardless of COVID-19 severity," the researchers determined.
You should talk to your doctor if you experience any of these new or worsening symptoms.
Researchers are not yet certain why some patients are experiencing neuropsychiatric symptoms following even a mild case of COVID. However, Wilfred van Gorp, PhD, past president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology and a practicing psychologist in New York and Chicago, told Verywell Health that he believes some of the cases he's seen with neuropsychiatric long-term COVID symptoms could be the result of either direct brain damage or damage from inflammation caused by the novel coronavirus.
If you experience any of these new or worsening symptoms following COVID infection, talk to your doctor; van Gorp says there are treatment options that can help ease your symptoms.