Debilitating Fatigue of Long COVID Rivals Severe Cancers

by Hiroshi Tanaka
Long COVID fatigue

A recent study conducted by researchers at UCL and the University of Exeter highlights the profound impact of fatigue, the predominant symptom of long COVID, on patients’ daily lives. The study reveals that long COVID patients experience a lower health-related quality of life compared to individuals in advanced stages of cancer. Furthermore, the study suggests that the impact of long COVID on daily activities is comparable to that of Parkinson’s disease and more severe than that of stroke patients.

Long COVID Fatigue and Quality of Life: A Comparative Analysis with Certain Cancers

A newly published study uncovers the debilitating effects of long COVID’s primary symptom, fatigue, which rivals the challenges faced by individuals with severe kidney disease and advanced cancers. The implications of this research extend to social and economic domains, emphasizing the necessity for targeted resources to enhance management and understanding of this condition.

The study, led by researchers from the University College London (UCL) and the University of Exeter, examined the impact of long COVID on over 3,750 patients referred to a long COVID clinic. These patients utilized a digital app as part of their treatment under the NHS. Through the app, patients completed questionnaires detailing the influence of long COVID on various aspects, including daily activities, fatigue levels, depression, anxiety, breathlessness, brain fog, and overall quality of life.

The findings indicate that many long COVID patients experience significant illness, with fatigue scores comparable to or worse than individuals with cancer-related anemia or severe kidney disease. Moreover, their health-related quality of life scores were lower than those observed in people with advanced metastatic cancers such as stage IV lung cancer. Overall, the impact of long COVID on patients’ daily activities surpassed that of stroke patients and approached the level observed in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Henry Goodfellow, co-lead researcher of the study alongside the late Professor Elizabeth Murray from UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health, emphasized that approximately 17% of individuals who contract COVID develop long COVID. However, the comprehensive understanding of the condition’s impact on patients’ daily lives is still lacking. Dr. Goodfellow highlighted the study’s results, stating that long COVID can have devastating effects on patients, particularly in relation to social activities, work, household chores, and maintaining close relationships.

In addition to its individual impact, long COVID is believed to have substantial economic and social consequences for the country. To be referred to a long COVID clinic, patients must have experienced symptoms consistent with long COVID for at least 12 weeks after the initial infection. Among the long COVID patients using the app, over 90% were of working age (18-65), with 51% reporting inability to work for at least one day in the previous month and 20% unable to work at all.

Furthermore, 71% of long COVID patients were female. Given that working-age women constitute a significant portion of the health and social care workforce, the impact of long COVID on their ability to function may add additional strain to already overwhelmed services.

Dr. Goodfellow expressed hope that a deeper understanding of long COVID’s symptoms and impact on patients will enable the NHS and policymakers to allocate limited resources more effectively. This could involve adapting existing services and designing new ones to better meet the needs of individuals with long COVID.

According to the Office for National Statistics, as of July 2022, around 1.4 million people in the UK exhibited symptoms of long COVID. In addition to fatigue, patients commonly experience breathlessness, anxiety, depression, and brain fog. Nevertheless, this study is the first to assess the condition’s impact on day-to-day functioning and health-related quality of life among patients referred for specialized rehabilitation in long COVID clinics across England.

Dr. Goodfellow stressed that fatigue should be a primary focus in clinical care and rehabilitation services for post-COVID assessment. This approach aims to optimize recovery and facilitate the return to work for long COVID sufferers.

Co-author Professor William Henley from the University of Exeter Medical School highlighted the invisible nature of long COVID and the significant challenges individuals face while attempting to manage its impact. Surprisingly, the research revealed that long COVID can result in worse fatigue and diminished quality of life than certain cancers. Despite this, the support and understanding for long COVID have not reached comparable levels. More research is urgently required to develop evidence-based services that support individuals grappling with this debilitating new condition.

The study was conducted in collaboration with partners from Southampton University, University of Exeter, Barts Health NHS Trust, University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, Royal Free Hospital, and Living With Ltd.

Study Limitations

It should be noted that the study participants were undergoing treatment, which likely indicates more severe symptoms compared to those who did not seek help for their long COVID symptoms. However, the researchers lack details about long COVID patients who chose not to seek medical assistance for their condition.

Reference: “Impact of fatigue as the primary determinant of functional limitations among patients with post-COVID-19 syndrome: a cross-sectional observational study” by Sarah Walker, Henry Goodfellow, Patra Pookarnjanamorakot, Elizabeth Murray, Julia Bindman, Ann Blandford, Katherine Bradbury, Belinda Cooper, Fiona L Hamilton, John R Hurst, Hannah Hylton, Stuart Linke, Paul Pfeffer, William Ricketts, Chris Robson, Fiona A Stevenson, David Sunkersing, Jiunn Wang, Manuel Gomes, William Henley, Living With Covid Recovery Collaboration, 7 June 2023, BMJ Open.
DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-069217

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Long COVID fatigue

What is the main symptom of long COVID mentioned in the study?

The main symptom of long COVID highlighted in the study is fatigue, which has a profound impact on patients’ daily lives.

How does long COVID fatigue compare to certain cancers?

According to the study, long COVID fatigue can have a comparable or even worse impact on patients’ quality of life than some advanced cancers, such as stage IV lung cancer.

Are there any other conditions mentioned in the study that have a similar impact on daily activities as long COVID?

Yes, the study reveals that the impact of long COVID on daily activities is similar to that of patients with Parkinson’s disease and worse than that of stroke patients.

How many patients were involved in the study?

The study examined the impact of long COVID on the lives of over 3,750 patients who were referred to a long COVID clinic and used a digital app as part of their treatment.

What are the potential social and economic implications of long COVID?

The study suggests that long COVID could have significant social and economic consequences, particularly considering its impact on patients’ ability to work. The findings indicate that a substantial number of long COVID patients, particularly working-age women, have experienced difficulties in their employment.

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David Brown June 14, 2023 - 8:31 am

the fact that long covid fatigue can be worse than cancer is mind-boggling. it’s a wake-up call for policymakers and healthcare providers to allocate resources and develop specialized services for long covid patients.

John Smith June 14, 2023 - 11:59 am

i had no idea that long covid fatigue could impact daily activities like Parkinson’s disease does. it must be really tough for those affected. this study shows the importance of focusing on fatigue in long covid management.

Emily Johnson June 14, 2023 - 6:21 pm

this research highlights the social and economic implications of long covid. if so many people are unable to work because of the fatigue, it puts additional strain on our healthcare system and workforce. we need to find better ways to support long covid patients.

Jane Doe June 14, 2023 - 10:28 pm

oh wow this study is eye opening, i didnt realize how bad long covid fatigue could be. it seems like it can be even worse than cancer! we need to give more attention and support to people with long covid.

Sarah Thompson June 15, 2023 - 5:01 am

as a long covid patient myself, this study validates my experiences. the fatigue is debilitating and affects every aspect of my life. i hope this research leads to better understanding and support for people like me who are living with long covid.


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