Unfortunately, there’s no singular, clear-cut answer to this question. When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, the widespread assumption was that the illness was relatively mild for most people diagnosed, and that the majority of patients would recover. However, in recent months, the media has placed more attention on folks who experience symptoms for an extended period of time. Their symptoms are rarely severe enough to require hospitalization but can be debilitating.
A study conducted at King’s College in London used data from a smartphone application called the COVID Study App in order to assess the varied symptomatic experiences among those who have tested positive for COVID-19. The study identified some key pieces of information regarding the prevalence of long COVID among those who have tested positive. In this study, the average duration of COVID-19 symptoms was 11 days. However, there are patients who have experienced symptoms associated with COVID-19 for an extended period of time. These patients are referred to as individuals with “long COVID.” One in 20 (4.5%) participants in a study subgroup experienced COVID-19 symptoms for 8 weeks, while one in 45 (2.3%) experienced COVID-19 symptoms for over 12 weeks. Researchers noted that while participants of all ages could experience long COVID, it is far more prevalent amongst older individuals. This study also found that those experiencing long COVID are likely to fall into distinct groups: those whose symptoms were primarily present in the respiratory system, and those who experienced symptoms impacting the brain, gut, and heart. The latter group was more likely to require hospitalization than the former.
Those who end up with long COVID share similar characteristics, not only in terms of demographics, but with regard to their early COVID symptoms. Notably, COVID patients who had multiple symptoms in the first week after being diagnosed were more likely to end up with long COVID than patients who were only experiencing one or two symptoms during this time interval.
As a women’s health organization, we are concerned with the ways in which treatment of COVID patients may differ on the basis of gender. It is important to acknowledge the treatment of women, especially women of color, who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms for an extended period of time. Many patients with long COVID are experiencing medical gaslighting, meaning that they are not being taken seriously when they express their symptoms to their health care providers. Health care providers are routinely misattributing long COVID symptoms in women to stress and anxiety. This is even more common among women of color. It is our hope that the prevalence of medical gaslighting among patients with long COVID will diminish as the body of research on the topic continues to grow and practitioners learn more about the variety of ways that the novel coronavirus presents itself among patients.
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