Younger ‘long Covid’ victims suffer multiple organ damage: Health issues can linger for months

Younger patients battling ‘long Covid’ can suffer damage to multiple organs four months after beating the infection, according to researchers.

Early findings from the COVERSCAN study has claimed almost 70 per cent have damage to one or more organs, including the heart and lungs. 

Associate professor Amitava Banerjee, of University College London, said 25 per cent of patients had damage to two or more organs. 

In some patients there was a connection between symptoms of fatigue, muscle aches and headaches and damaged organs.  

Doctors behind the study told MailOnline organs had been injured a result of inflammation caused by infection, which in some people goes into overdrive.

They said ‘only time will tell’ whether the problems are permanent, with the aim of following volunteers for one year. But they advised people to live a healthy lifestyle because they found those with a high BMI were more at risk of organ damage.

The COVERSCAN study is looking for long term organ damage in people who have had Covid-19. The first findings revealed in October, looking at patients three months after infection, showed heart damage was most common in the cohort of 160 British patients, affecting 39 per cent

The COVERSCAN study is looking for long term organ damage in people who have had Covid-19. The first findings revealed in October, looking at patients three months after infection, showed heart damage was most common in the cohort of 160 British patients, affecting 39 per cent

The COVERSCAN study is looking for long term organ damage in people who have had Covid-19. The first findings revealed in October, looking at patients three months after infection, showed heart damage was most common in the cohort of 160 British patients, affecting 39 per cent

More than 60,000 Britons are thought to be affected by long-lasting symptoms of Covid-19, including fatigue, breathlessness and pain. 

The COVERSCAN study is one of many studies examining the long-term damage inflicted by Covid-19 on major organs.

It’s being led by British medical company Perspectum with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and the Mayo Clinic.

Over two years the study will recruit 500 people who have recovered from confirmed Covid-19 infection.

Woman, 43, says her racing heart after Covid-19 feels like she is ‘going to have a heart attack or stroke’ 

Laura Hughes, who was involved in the COVERSCAN study, was told she had a lower ventricle pumping function of 53 per cent, which is considered lower than typical or borderline.

The 43-year-old, who lives in North London but is originally from the US, believes this is what has caused her racing heart rate in the months after her Covid-19 infection.

She told MailOnline her symptoms of a high heart rate and chest pains ‘felt like I was going to have a heart attack or stroke’.

‘It goes higher than I would typically expect if I go up the stairs. Or in the middle of the night,’ she explained.

‘For a week of two I feel okay and then it come back. It ebbs and flows.

‘In the beginning I wasn’t really able to do anything. I’d try and make a meal or something and I couldn’t even stand.’

Ms Hughes, a mother-of-three and former attorney, was previously super fit and a half marathon runner before her Covid-19 infection.

She says she has since had another scan and a cardiologist told her heart appeared to be back to normal. She still suffers a racing heart rate, but is ‘getting back to normal’.

Ms Xu said: ‘We’ve seen a number of people have seen their LVEJ effected. But it’s important to emphasis we don’t know whether this is Covid related, because some of these people may have had this issue prior to getting Covid.

‘In the heart, we have seen that the impact has been caused by inflammation.

Ms Hughes had blood tests which found lymphocytes – indication of recent inflammation that may have been triggered by the infection.

Laura Hughes, who was involved in the COVERSCAN study, was told she had signs of heart damage after Covid-19. The 43-year-old, who lives in North London and was previously fit and healthy, believes this is what has caused her racing heart rate in the months after her illness

Laura Hughes, who was involved in the COVERSCAN study, was told she had signs of heart damage after Covid-19. The 43-year-old, who lives in North London and was previously fit and healthy, believes this is what has caused her racing heart rate in the months after her illness

Laura Hughes, who was involved in the COVERSCAN study, was told she had signs of heart damage after Covid-19. The 43-year-old, who lives in North London and was previously fit and healthy, believes this is what has caused her racing heart rate in the months after her illness 

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They will be monitored for a year for signs of health changes – using blood tests and scans – triggered by the virus, as scientists work to understand ‘Long covid’ in more depth. 

The results will be compared with control samples taken from tens of thousands of volunteers in the UK Biobank long before the pandemic.

This will show if the proportion of people with organ damage is higher in the Covid-19 group than the general population.

The latest set of data is based on 201 patients with an average age of 44, four months after their positive test result.  

Out of those people, 197 said they suffered fatigue, 176 muscle ache and 166 headaches. 

Heart or lung damage was linked to breathlessness while liver and pancreas impairments were associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, which may include stomach aches or diarrhoea. 

None of the patients was scanned before developing Covid-19, meaning some of them may have had pre-existing conditions.

Professor Banerjee, who said 25 per cent of patients had damage to two or more organs. said: ‘This is of interest because we need to know if [the impairments] continue or improve – or if there is a sub-group of people who could get worse.’ 

In October, the researchers behind the study published the findings of a smaller group of patients (160) three months after their positive Covid-19 test result.  

Overall, 50 per cent of patients had evidence of organ damage.

When asked how serious this was, Mary Xu, Head of Clinical Affairs at Perspectum who designed and coordinated the study, said it was ‘measurable’.

She told MailOnline: ‘We have found measurable organ damage. They are relatively mild, so nothing significant, which is positive. So only time will tell if they are permanent.

‘These are early results, it’s worth noting we don’t want to draw too much on them.’

‘Because in our cohort we have found that despite the fact people were not hospitalised, despite the fact the average age was early 40s, we still see measureable organ damage and that is very much contradictory of what we saw in January, which is preliminary results that it mostly impacted those over 60 and the lungs.’

Because the patients were recruited through social media and other channels, the results may be skewed. Participants may have signed up because they were suffering long-term symptoms, and therefore the study is not representative of all people who have been infected with the coronavirus  

But the majority (79 per cent) had avoided hospitalisation, and so it can be assumed they had mild infection or perhaps no symptoms at all.

The study is one of many to shine a light on the ‘Long Covid’ – a term used to describe those who are suffering long term problems as a result of their coronavirus infection.

The effects are far reaching, with a vast array of symptoms encompassing both physical and neurological and dragging on for months in some cases.

Symptoms include severe fatigue, breathlessness, muscle aches, joint pain, ‘brain fog,’ memory loss, mental health problems and organ damage.

13 per cent had evidence of liver inflammation (top), and 19 per cent had liver fat (bottom)

13 per cent had evidence of liver inflammation (top), and 19 per cent had liver fat (bottom)

16 per cent had pancreas inflammation (top) and 37 per cent had pancreas fat (bottom)

16 per cent had pancreas inflammation (top) and 37 per cent had pancreas fat (bottom)

The COVERSCAN study in October said fatty organs is not expected to be caused by the coronavirus, and instead a indicator of metabolic disease. Therefore it may be a risk factor for Covid-19 organ damage, rather than a result

LONG COVID: WHAT IS IT AND COULD IT BE FOUR DIFFERENT SYNDROMES? 

Covid-19 is described as a short-term illness caused by infection with the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Public health officials tend to say people will recover within two weeks or so. 

However it’s become increasingly clear that this is not the case for everyone, and that the two-week period is only the ‘acute illness’ phase.

The North Bristol NHS Trust’s Discover project, which is studying the longer-term effects of coronavirus, found that out of a total of 110 patients given a three-month check up, most (74 per cent) had at least one persistent symptom after twelve weeks. The most common were:

  • Excessive fatigue: 39%
  • Breathlessness: 39%
  • Insomnia: 24%  
  • Muscle pain: 23%
  • Chest pain: 13%
  • Cough: 12%
  • Loss of smell: 12%
  • Headache, fever, joint pain and diarrhoea: Each less than 10% 

Other long term symptoms that have been reported by Covid-19 survivors, both suspected and confirmed, anecdotally, include hearing problems, ‘brain fog’, memory loss, lack of concentration, mental health problems and hair loss.

The impact of Long Covid on people who had mild illness have not been studied in depth yet.  

Data from the King’s College London symptom tracking app shows that up to 500,000 people in the UK are currently suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.

In October, scientists claimed Long Covid could actually be split into four different syndromes.  

Academics at the National Institute for Health Research — headed up by Professor Chris Whitty — were asked to review the limited evidence on long Covid to help both patients and doctors understand the ‘phenomenon’. 

Their findings warned that even children can suffer and it can’t be assumed that people who are at lower risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19 are also at low risk of lasting side effects.

Doctors cautioned some mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in ‘long-haulers’, as they are known, could be down to lockdowns, as opposed to the virus itself. 

The experts also claimed that the symptoms could be grouped into four different groups: 

  • Post intensive care syndrome (PICS)
  • Post viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) 
  • Permanent organ damage (POD)  
  • Long term Covid syndrome (LTCS) 
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Scientists are investigating who may be more at risk of long-term health problems from Covid-19.

So far, research on people who complain of ‘Long Covid’ has not found a ‘typical’ patient.

The COVERSCAN study appears to have found some early signs of risk factors.

Ms Xu said: ‘We did find that BMI and liver fat are risk factors. So in terms of what people can do [to reduce risk of organ damage], it’s exercising and a healthy diet.

‘These results provide early evidence showing that effects of the virus can have a potentially long-term impact on younger people who have not been hospitalised with COVID-19.’

The research found that 39 per cent had evidence of reduced left ventricular ejection fraction.

‘Ejection fraction’ is a measurement, expressed as a percentage, of how much blood is pumped out the left ventricle – the heart’s main pumping chamber – with each contraction.

A normal heart’s ejection fraction may be between 50 and 70 per cent.

Anything above or below this can indicate heart failure or cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart tissue, the British Heart Foundation says.

Left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, swelling of the feet and lower legs, fatigue, and an irregular heartbeat.

It was mostly seen in men compared with women in the COVERSCAN cohort. 

Ms Xu said: ‘We’ve seen a number of people have seen their LVEJ effected. But it’s important to emphasis we don’t know whether this is Covid related, because some of these people may have had this issue prior to getting Covid.

‘In the heart, we have seen that the impact has been caused by inflammation.’ 

A total of 14 per cent had evidence of kidney inflammation, 13 per cent had evidence of liver inflammation, and one in six (16 per cent) had evidence of pancreas inflammation.

Some 19 per cent had liver fat, while 37 per cent had fat accumulation around the pancreas. 

But the study said fatty organs is not expected to be caused by the coronavirus, and instead a indicator of metabolic disease.  Therefore it may be a risk factor for Covid-19 organ damage, rather than a result. 

In both the liver and pancreas, problems were more evident in those with a high BMI and those who needed hospital care. 

Interestingly, no chronic evidence of decreased lung function was observed on patients in the early months post infection. 

Last month, researchers said symptoms of Long Covid appear to fall into four syndromes that require different treatments.

One of them was organ damage, which the team at the National Institute for Health Research said was most common in the lungs and heart. 

Yesterday, the NHS announced it is opening 40 long Covid clinics this month to assess physical and psychological symptoms. 

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘Long Covid is already having a very serious impact on many people’s lives and could well go on to affect hundreds of thousands.

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