Long Covid leads to enduring ‘abnormalities’ in multiple organs, study finds

Nearly a third of patients hospitalized with Covid go on to have “abnormalities” in multiple organs five months later.

This is the conclusion of a study undertaken in the UK early on in the pandemic, which may help shine a light on the complex biology that underpins long Covid.

According to data from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, around six percent of US adults are living with the enduring condition.

Long Covid comes with a range of enduring symptoms — including brain fog, fatigue, loss of smell, muscle aches, and shortness of breath.

According to the researchers, the findings of the study could pave the way for new treatments to help people suffering with symptoms.

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The study was undertaken by a consortium known as the C-MORE/PHOSP-COVID Collaborative Group.

The team wrote: “Long-standing multiorgan impairment following SARS-CoV-2 infection has been a major concern for individuals recovering from severe disease.”

Such is thought to be caused by various factors, including viral-induced cell damage, chronic inflammation, metabolic disruptions and acute reactivation of other viruses.

The researchers continued: “Numerous reports of delayed organ complications — such as myocarditis, stroke, and pulmonary emboli — have led to speculations that the multiorgan dysfunction caused by COVID-19 might be responsible for impaired recovery and ongoing symptoms in individuals, a condition referred to as long Covid.”

What has been unclear, they added, is “the precise burden of persistent multiorgan impairment after hospitalization with COVID-19 and how this impairment might affect patient recovery and symptoms”.

The researchers’ investigation involved the analysis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 259 former Covid patients’ brains, heart, kidneys, liver and lungs.

Each patient had been discharged from hospital between March 1, 2020 and November 1, 2020 — and were assessed around five months later.

For comparison’s sake, the team also studied multiorgan MRI scans of a control group of 52 people who had never contracted SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers noted that Covid group was broadly older, and generally less healthy, than the control group — although they took steps to account for this in their analysis.

Compared with the control group, the subjects who had been hospitalized with Covid were found to have an increased risk of kidney, lung and brain abnormalities — including white matter lesions in the brain and lung scarring.

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Writing in a commentary paper, Dr Matthew Baldwin of Columbia University — who was not involved in the present study — said that the “most intriguing” finding was that people with impaired recovery had four times the odds of multiorgan MRI abnormalities.

He added: “These results suggest that long COVID is not explained by severe deficits concentrated in any one organ.

“Each organ abnormality seems necessary but insufficient to cause long COVID symptoms.

“Rather, the interaction of two or more abnormalities in organs might have an additive or multiplicative effect in creating physiological deficits that result in long COVID symptoms.

“Accordingly, future studies that use a systems biology approach might be most likely to elucidate multiorgan mechanisms of long COVID as potential therapeutic targets.”

The researchers concluded: “After hospitalization for COVID-19, people are at risk of multiorgan abnormalities in the medium term.

“Our findings emphasize the need for proactive multidisciplinary care pathways — with the potential for imaging to guide surveillance frequency and therapeutic stratification.”

The full findings of the study were published in the journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

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