Doctors and scientists have noted the symptoms associated with Covid-19 to help people identify the virus and determine if they may have it. While people were split in to high and lower risk groups based on their age, health status, and vulnerability for others, the long-term effects of COVID are just becoming understood. Studies have returned evidence that women are more likely to have symptoms of long Covid. Long Covid has been defined as failing to fully recover or have lingering conditions for months following the start of symptoms that were suggestive of Covid-19. This occurs whether you were tested or not and research has suggested it could have something to do with the way bodies fight off the virus.
Early research into people’s experience of Covid-19 found that between one in five and one in ten people had COVID symptoms for as long as a month before recovering. However, some people who contacted Covid-19 in 2020, are still feeling the effects today. 55 long-term effects have been identified, and just like the virus, people experience long Covid differently. The most common symptoms are breathlessness, headaches, a cough, fatigue, cognitive impairment or ‘brain fog’, muscle pain, and anxiety. Others noted that they were still battling with organ damage, months after testing positive for Covid-19.
The University of Leicester led a study which collected data on the physical, cognitive and mental health impacts of Covid-19 after people had been hospitalized. Researchers found that seven in ten patients who were discharged, after being admitted with Covid-19 to the hospital, reported having symptoms indicative of long covid for months afterward. Most of the people affected were women between the ages of 40 and 60. After being hospitalized over a quarter of people who participated in the study said they’d experienced anxiety and depression and 12% had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rachael Evans, a clinical scientist at the University of Leicester, commented on the research saying “the symptoms are very real, but they don’t have a straightforward relationship with heart and lung damage, or certain heart and lung damage can’t explain all the symptoms.”
This isn’t the first study to detail people’s experiences of long Covid and to highlight that women are more likely to suffer for longer. A study led by the University of Glasgow concluded that women under 50 are seven times more likely to be breathless and twice as likely to report fatigue than men, seven months after seeking medical assistance for Covid-19.
“Our research shows that survivors of Covid-19 experienced long-term symptoms, including a new disability, increased breathlessness, and a reduced quality of life,” Dr. Janet Scott, the study’s lead author from the University of Glasgow-MRC Centre for Virus Research, told the BBC, “These findings were present even in young, previously healthy adults under 50, and were most common in younger females.”
To date, young people have not been classed as vulnerable unless they have pre-existing health conditions. Doctors did however establish early in the pandemic that Covid-19 was affecting people differently based on gender. Men were more likely to be hospitalized or placed in intensive care with the virus. Studies also highlighted that men were twice as likely to die from Covid-19.
Researchers have pointed to the body’s immune response as a reason as to why long Covid may be disproportionately affecting women. “Autoimmunity, where the body has an immune response to its own healthy cells and organs, is more common in middle-aged women,” Professor Louise Wain from the University of Leicester told the Financial Times, “This may explain why post-Covid syndrome seems to be more prevalent in this group, but further investigation is needed to fully understand the processes.”
For many people, the pandemic has been a time of uncertainty. The announcement of vaccine rollouts at the end of 2020 around the globe was regarded as hope for a return to normalcy. Unfortunately, long haul COVID is affecting how quickly normalcy can occur, and suggests that increased research is needed to determine why women have the long lasting symptoms.