New NIH study seeks to define ‘long COVID’

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 

Millions of Americans have been infected with COVID-19, however, just 6% of those will or have experienced long-term symptoms.

Researchers have identified more than 200 symptoms that can be attributed to long COVID, also called post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).

A new study, funded by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) is shedding light on long COVID symptoms in an effort to improve diagnosis and treatment. The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and was conducted through the NIH’s Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) study. This initiative aims to understand who gets long COVID and how to better predict, treat, and prevent the disorder.


The study included 9,764 American participants and 8,646 of the participants reported having previous COVID-19 infections. The initial findings identified a post-infection set of conditions that can affect the whole body, including fatigue, brain fog, and dizziness. Symptoms can last months or years after the initial infection and can be debilitating.

“Americans living with long COVID want to understand what is happening with their bodies,” said ADM Rachel L. Levine, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health said in an NIH press release. RECOVER, as part of a broader government response, in collaboration with academia, industry, public health institutions, advocacy organizations and patients, is making great strides toward improving our understanding of long COVID and its associated conditions.”

The researchers evaluated more than 30 symptoms associated with COVID-19 and found 12 that were the most common in both patients with and without long COVID. These symptoms were post-exertional malaise, fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, heart palpitations, issues with sexual desire or capacity, loss of smell or taste, thirst, chronic cough, chest pain, and abnormal movements. Researchers also found that long COVID was more common and severe in study participants infected before the 2021 Omicron variant.

Each of the 12 symptoms was assigned points and each patient was given a score based on symptom combinations, which gave the scientists a guideline for identifying patients with long COVID. They also found that some symptom combinations occurred together, forming “clusters.”

“This study is an important step toward defining long COVID beyond any one individual symptom,” said study author Leora Horwitz, M.D., director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Delivery Science, and co-principal investigator for the RECOVER Clinical Science Core, at NYU Langone Health, she added that “This approach — which may evolve over time — will serve as a foundation for scientific discovery and treatment design.

According to the team of researchers, studying the underlying biological mechanisms of long COVID is critical in prevention and effective treatment interventions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), 1 in 5 Americans are suffering from long COVID symptoms and it is more likely to occur in women or adults between the ages of 50 and 59.

Previous research has indicated that Paxlovidand vaccination could prevent long COVID by treating severe illness and reducing hospitalizations. Researchers continue to look for treatments and interventions to help patients recover.

David C. Goff, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of NIH said “While the score developed in this study is an important research tool and early step toward diagnosing and monitoring patients with long COVID, we recognize its limitations,” and further explained that “All patients suffering from long COVID deserve the attention and respect of the medical field, as well as care and treatment driven by their experiences. As treatments are developed, it will be important to consider the complete symptom profile.”