Damage to the body’s organs including the lungs and kidneys is common in people who were admitted to hospital with Covid, with one in eight found to have heart inflammation, researchers have revealed.
As the pandemic evolved, it became clear that some people who had Covid were being left with ongoing symptoms – a condition that has been called long Covid.
Previous studies have revealed that fewer than a third of patients who have ongoing Covid symptoms after being hospitalized with the disease feel fully recovered a year later, while some experts have warned long Covid could result in a generation affected by disability.
Now researchers tracking the progress of patients who were treated in hospital for Covid say they have found evidence the disease can take a toll on a range of organs.
What’s more, they say the severity of ongoing symptoms appears to be linked to the severity of the Covid infection itself.
“Even fit, healthy individuals can suffer severe Covid-19 illness and to avoid this, members of the public should take up the offer of vaccination,” said Prof Colin Berry, of the University of Glasgow, which led the CISCO-19 (Cardiac imaging in Sars coronavirus disease-19) study.
“Our study provides objective evidence of abnormalities at one to two months post-Covid and these findings tie in with persisting symptoms at that time and the likelihood of ongoing health needs one year later,” Berry added.
Writing in the journal Nature Medicine, the researchers describe how they tracked the outcomes of 159 people hospitalized with Covid between May 2020 and March 2021.
The team carried out a range of scans and blood tests at 28-60 days after the Covid patients were discharged, with patients also given questionnaires to complete. The results were compared with those from a control group of 29 people with a similar age, sex, ethnicity, and cardiovascular risk factors, who had not had Covid.
The authors write that, compared with controls, those who had been hospitalized with Covid showed several abnormalities, including in results from imaging of the heart, lungs and kidneys.
The team found about 13%, or one in eight, of those hospitalized for Covid were deemed by experts to be very likely to have myocarditis, or heart inflammation, compared with just one control participant. This led to a “lower health-related quality of life, greater illness perception, higher levels of anxiety and depression [and] lower levels of physical activity,” said Dr Andrew Morrow, also from the University of Glasgow.
The likelihood of myocarditis was higher among healthcare workers and those with acute kidney injury, as well as those with more severe disease requiring invasive ventilation.
“These findings reinforce the importance of both the vaccine program and novel treatments that have greatly reduced the number of severe cases of Covid-19,” said Morrow.
The results also reveal those who had been hospitalized with Covid were more likely to need outpatient secondary care or be referred for symptoms consistent with long Covid, with death and re-hospitalizations also much higher in this group.
Dr Betty Raman, a cardiologist and long Covid expert at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the work, said the study provided important insights into the prevalence of clinically adjudicated myocarditis and its association with prolonged symptoms in those hospitalized with Covid early in the pandemic.
However, Raman noted that presence of persistent heart inflammation was not assessed during later follow-up, few participants had received a Covid jab, and the Covid variants involved were unlikely to be the Omicron lineages that are prevalent today.
“Current-day estimates of myocarditis following more novel Sars-CoV-2 variants in the post-vaccine era may differ from this study, given the lower risk of hospitalization and severe disease attributable to differences in variants and vaccine effects,” she said.