The results of a pilot study involving 36 patients raise the possibility that COVID-19 may cause microscopic damage to the lungs that has not been detected using routine testing.
Shortness of breath is a symptom in the majority of long-term Covid patients, but it is not clear whether this is related to other factors such as changes in breathing patterns, fatigue or something more important.
Lung health affected
The results of this latest study are the first evidence that basic lung health can be affected, says Dr Emily Fraser, consultant at Oxford University Hospitals and study co-author.
“It’s the first study to show lung abnormalities in people with long-term COVID-19 who have shortness of breath,” Fraser said. “The study indicates that the virus causes a kind of persistent abnormality within the microstructure of the lungs or in the pulmonary blood vessels,” she added.
She noted that more work is needed to clarify the clinical significance of the findings, including how the apparent abnormalities are related to shortness of breath.
Claire Steves, a clinical lecturer at King’s College London who was not involved in the study, said: “The results will be of great interest to anyone who experiences shortness of breath for a prolonged period after contracting Covid.”
“They suggest that the lung’s efficiency in doing what it is supposed to do, especially in exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen, may be compromised even though the lung structure may appear normal,” she said.
“We really need to wait for the study to be completed to see if these early findings are robust and, if so, how well they are explained, and what the implications are in terms of potential treatments,” she added.
This is the latest study to highlight the physiological differences observed in people with long-term COVID-19.
The study, which aims to recruit 400 participants, uses specialized MRI technology in which patients breathe xenon gas while lying in the scanner. The gas can be traced as it travels from the lungs into the bloodstream, giving a reading of how the lungs are working. This contrasts with a CT scan that only shows the structure of the lungs.
Preliminary results showed “significantly impaired gas transfer” from the lungs to the bloodstream in long-term COVID-19 patients, even when other tests are normal. Similar abnormalities were found in COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized with a more serious illness.
What is “long-term Covid”?
And “long-term Covid” is a group of symptoms that people who have been infected with the Corona virus experience, despite full recovery.
The consultant in diagnosing bacterial and viral diseases, Dr. Mona Kayal, revealed to the “Sabah Al-Noor” program that this medical condition was observed in people whose injuries required treatment in the hospital, as well as in cases where their injuries were minor, and they did not experience severe symptoms.
The doctor explained how “long-term Covid” has become a syndrome that is embodied in long-term symptoms that may accompany the patient for weeks and months, and may even prevent him from continuing his life normally despite the recovery.
Symptoms of “long-term Covid”
Symptoms include chronic fatigue and tiredness, cough, rapid heartbeat, headache, some breathing difficulties, muscle pain, and a delayed return of the senses of smell and taste.
The expert adds that among the most important signs are also a loss of ability to focus, and psychological problems such as depression, and she also cited a study that conducted an MRI of a number of patients who suffer from these symptoms, and it was found that a large number of them suffered from changes in the heart muscle, and it is not yet known whether they are These changes may be permanent or temporary.
The most vulnerable groups
As for the groups most vulnerable to post-recovery symptoms, they are, according to Dr. Mona Kayal, some coronavirus survivors who complain of excess weight and some chronic diseases, and the percentage of women is greater than men, especially middle-aged women.
She added, “Middle-aged women are the most vulnerable to long-term Covid, and the most prominent symptoms are chronic fatigue, muscle pain and psychological and physical exhaustion.”
Does Omicron cause “long-lasting Covid”?
According to a report by the “New York Times” published last week, it is too early for scientists to give accurate answers at this stage about the relationship between the “Omicron” mutant, which has become prevalent in a number of countries, and a long-term Covid, especially for the two restaurants, as the research conducted to date. It does not yield conclusive evidence.
Because the omicron mutant was first detected in late November, it is too early to say how long symptoms of infection can last.
It is also not clear until now whether “Omicron”, like previous mutants of the virus such as “Delta”, can lead to the emergence of neurological and brain problems such as brain fog or severe fatigue after recovering from the virus.
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