Women with long-haul COVID-19 have more symptoms than men, study finds

A new study has found that women who suffer from long-COVID typically experience more symptoms than their male counterparts.

The report, published in the latest edition of the monthly peer-reviewed Journal of Women’s Health, found that females were “significantly more likely” to exhibit difficulty swallowing, fatigue and chest pain at long-term follow-up compared to men.

Previous studies have show that women are less prone to developing severe disease than men in the acute phase of COVID-19, however, researchers note few studies have assessed sex-differences in regards to long COVID.

“While women have a lower mortality rate than men during the acute phase of COVID, this study indicates that women have a greater likelihood of experiencing long COVID syndrome,” said Journal of Women’s Health Editor-in-Chief Susan Kornstein in a press release issued Thursday.

Also known as post-acute COVID-19 syndrome, or PACS for short, long COVID occurs when symptoms such as extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, cardiovascular issues or cognitive impairment linger beyond 12 weeks after the initial recovery period.

While understanding of long COVID remains limited, the syndrome can be debilitating and is believed to affect between 10 per cent to one third of those who have been infected.

The exact cause of long COVID is currently unknown, but possible underlying causes researchers are studying include damage from the original infection, lingering reservoirs of virus in the body, residual inflammation and an autoimmune response.

Researchers from the University of Parma and University-Hospital of Parma in Italy looked at 223 patients — 89 women and 134 men — who were infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, between May 2020 and March 2021.

The study found that 91 per cent of patients, who were followed up for five months on average, continued to experience COVID-19 symptoms, with shortness of breath and fatigue being the most common.

According to the findings, women were 97 per cent more symptomatic compared to 84 per cent of males.

Researchers say women were more likely than males to report breathlessness, weakness, thoracic pain, heart palpitations and sleep disturbance, but not muscle aches and cough.

Sleep disturbances were also more frequent in females, while weight loss was more often reported by males, according to the study.

“Sex was found to be an important determinant of long COVID syndrome because it is a significant predictor of persistent symptoms in women, such as dyspnea, fatigue, chest pain, and palpitations,” the study’s authors wrote.

Researchers say the findings suggest the need for long-term follow-up of long COVID patients “from a sex perspective” to implement early preventive and personalized therapeutic strategies.

“These studies will be crucial to understanding the natural trajectory of long COVID-19 in order to implement targeted treatment strategies and to prevent bias in treating males and females,” the study’s authors wrote.

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