Trending Clinical Topic: COVID Syndromes

Ryan Syrek


October 30, 2020

Each week, we identify one top search term, speculate about what caused its popularity, and provide an infographic on a related condition. If you have thoughts about what's trending and why, share them with us on Twitter or Facebook. Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

New findings and related developments associated with a condition being called "long COVID" resulted in this week's top trending clinical topic. A review of available scientific evidence on individuals with prolonged COVID-19 symptoms, published by the National Institute for Health Research, found that long COVID may not be one syndrome but as many as four (see Infographic below). The paper included analysis of recurring symptoms among hospitalized and nonhospitalized patients with COVID-19. Ongoing problems were reported with the respiratory system, brain, cardiovascular system and heart, kidneys, gut, liver, and even skin.

Although many patients recover within 2-3 weeks, a growing number of long COVID cases have been reported. These so-called "long-hauler" patients  describe frustration with physicians who have dismissed their symptoms. Experts have expressed concern about whether enough is being done to study and treat long-term effects of COVID-19. Investigators are exploring possible relationships between long COVID, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, and other viral illnesses.

Even for those who are not considered long-haulers, recovery from COVID-19 can be difficult. Exercise tolerance may take 2-3 months or longer to return to baseline. Heart-related symptoms such as residual palpitations and persistent tachycardia have been reported without any residual inflammation in the blood. The scope of the potential problem is also significant. As one expert pointed out, given the millions of cases, if even 10% have long-lasting symptoms, that would mean injecting hundreds of thousands of new patients who require ongoing care into health systems around the world.

Beyond the long-term physical effects, the lasting psychological impact of COVID-19 has been given a name: coronaphobia. Although the term is a catch-all for the anxieties and concerns experienced in reaction to the pandemic, researchers have formalized a definition of the long-term mental health effects. Recent literature suggests that coronaphobia is more likely among those who feel vulnerable to disease, are predisposed to anxiety, or struggle with uncertainty. 

Although those who care for patients with COVID-19 remain immersed in short-term concerns, long-term issues are increasingly a subject of interest. This helps explain why "COVID syndromes" is this week's top trending clinical topic.

Read more about the clinical presentation of COVID-19.


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