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More Than Half of Patients with Rheumatic Diseases and COVID-19 Experience “Long-Haul” Symptoms

According to survey results presented at ACR Convergence 2021, more than half of patients with rheumatic diseases who contracted the COVID-19 virus reported experiencing prolonged symptoms for 1 month or longer. These “long-haul” symptoms included loss of taste or smell, muscle aches, and difficulty concentrating.

“COVID-19 long-haulers are described as individuals who experience persistent symptoms after having the virus,” Medha Barbhaiya, MD, MPH, Assistant Attending Rheumatologist, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City, said in a poster presentation during the meeting. “Whether this is a particular concern for rheumatic disease patients due to their underlying immune dysregulation or their use of immunosuppressive medications is poorly understood.”

To determine the prevalence of “long-haul” COVID-19 symptoms in patients with rheumatic diseases, Dr Barbhaiya and colleagues analyzed data from a secure web-based survey of participants who had been seen by a rheumatologist at least once between 2018 and 2020. The online survey was sent out on March 5, 2021.

Study Results

Of 2572 survey respondents, 254 reported a history of confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Among these patients, 55.9% indicated they experienced “long-haul” symptoms that lasted 1 month or longer, whereas 44.09% reported symptoms lasting less than 1 month.

The investigators observed no demographic differences between individuals with and without “long-haul” symptoms. Similarly, they reported no differences between those with systemic or nonsystemic rheumatic disease.

Patients with “long-haul” symptoms were more likely to have ≥1 medical comorbidities and be a current or former smoker. They were also more likely to use corticosteroids for at least 3 months at the time of COVID-19 diagnosis. In addition, those with persistent symptoms demonstrated a significantly higher frequency of most COVID-19 symptoms at presentation (eg, chills, cough, fatigue or malaise, headache or migraine, loss of smell or taste, muscle aches, memory or concentration problems, joint pain, and shortness of breath).

Regarding quality of life, Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System scores suggested clinically worse anxiety, depression, fatigue, and pain in the “long-hauler” group.

“Our study shows that over half of rheumatology patients with COVID-19 who completed our survey reported persistent symptoms for at least 1 month,” Dr Barbhaiya said. “And long-hauler patients were more likely to have had more medical comorbidities, smoking history, and use of chronic corticosteroids at the time of their COVID-19 diagnosis.”

The results from this survey have prompted the investigators to conduct a longitudinal analysis of rheumatology patients with “long-haul” COVID-19 to determine whether lingering symptoms interfered with rheumatologic conditions.

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