High cholesterol, anxiety, weight gain in young people might be an indicator of long COVID

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While health experts are still looking into the matter of long COVID, a recent research study has shed light on some more critical implications of the infection and its long term burden.

Long COVID is a serious concern

Long COVID is the health ramification following an infection by a coronavirus which comprises a constellation of complications that are seen in individuals even weeks and months after the infection.

For this study, researchers have considered the symptoms seen more than 180 days after the infection.

What is the research study about?

A study on non-hospitalised, unvaccinated, young adults of the Swiss Armed Force has found that these individuals are at higher risk of developing metabolic disorders and possible cardiovascular complications following a COVID infection.

“Eligible participants were personnel of the Swiss Armed Forces (SAF) who were aged 18–30 years with a positive or negative RT-PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 during their service between March 1, 2020, and Dec 31, 2020,” the study says.

“Participants were subdivided into four groups: control group (ie, serologically
negative), asymptomatic infection group (ie, serologically positive but with no symptoms), non-recent COVID-19 group (>180 days since positive PCR test), and recent COVID-19 group (=180 days since positive PCR test),” it adds.

A total of 501 participants were enrolled in the study of which 29 were females.

What did the study find?

We found a significant trend towards a constellation of metabolic disorders in participants in the non-recent group compared with those in the control group, the research paper, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal says. The non recent group is the one where it has been more than 180 days since the COVID positive PCR test.

The study found that this group had higher BMI, lower aerobic threshold, and higher blood cholesterol. A total of 177 individuals were there in this group. These participants also reported more fatigue.

” No other significant differences in psychosocial questionnaire scores, ophthalmological outcomes, and sperm quality or motility were reported between participants in the control group and those in non-recent COVID-19 group,” the study says.

On stress and anxiety which is the key element of long COVID research studies, this study found that participants in the recent COVID group showed higher psychological burdens than those in the non-recent group. The recent group is where it has been less than 180 days since the COVID positive PCR test.

What does the study suggest?

A constellation of increased BMI, dyslipidemia, and decreased physical endurance suggests that previously healthy young adults might have an increased risk of developing metabolic disorders and possible cardiovascular complications.

However, it also found that young, previously healthy, non-hospitalised individuals largely recover from mild infection and that the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on several systems of the body is less than that seen in older, multi-morbid or hospitalised patients.

“Even mild infections can have lead to long COVID”

The study stresses that even mild infections can lead to symptoms that can persist up to 180 days. “However, findings from this study and others suggest that even mild infections in young adults can lead to sequelae that persist up to 180 days such as fatigue, hyposmia, poor psychological scores, and a short-term, negative impact on male fertility,” the researchers have said.

Emphasizing on their finding, the researchers have said that the long follow-up study provided evidence of persisting high BMI, dyslipidemia, and lower physical endurance even 10 months after COVID.

“These results have societal and public health effects and can guide strategies for broad interdisciplinary evaluation of COVID-19 sequelae, their management, curative treatments, and support in young adult populations,” the researchers have said.

Why is long COVID a menace?


It is because it was traced long after it actually affected people. Health experts have recently started realising the long term burden thrown by the COVID infection. In December 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed this condition and termed it post-COVID condition.

“Post COVID-19 condition, also known as “long COVID,” refers collectively to the constellation of long-term symptoms that some people experience after they have had COVID-19. People who experience post COVID-19 condition sometimes refer to themselves as “long-haulers”, the WHO had said in a statement.

“While most people who develop COVID-19 fully recover, some people develop a variety of mid- and long-term effects like fatigue, breathlessness and cognitive dysfunction (for example, confusion, forgetfulness, or a lack of mental focus and clarity). Some people also experience psychological effects as part of post COVID-19 condition,” it had warned people.

On the long term impact of COVID, Dr Manoj Singh, Senior critical care specialist, Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad says: The most important findings of this study are development of high cholesterol due to weight gain and subsequent poor exercise tolerance. We have also documented the impact of Cardio-respiratory Rehabilitation in our study (in review in National Chest Journal) of similar Post Covid patients in Ahmedabad. The common message is after any infectious illness, timely rehabilitation/exercises under expert consultation and a good diet will prevent you from developing metabolic disorders like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity in young age groups.

Common symptoms seen in long COVID

The common symptoms associated with long COVID are: fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, memory, concentration or sleep problems, persistent cough, chest pain, trouble speaking, muscle aches, loss of smell or taste, depression or anxiety and fever.

People with long COVID may find it difficult in even carrying out day to day activities.

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