Women with a high BMI are more at risk of developing Long COVID compared to those with a lower BMI, a new study indicates.

A study by the University of East Anglia has also found that women are more likely to experience continuous symptoms of the coronavirus than men.

According to the research, individuals with Long COVID tend to require further NHS care, which is putting more strain on the healthcare system.

Professor Vassilios Vassiliou said: “Long COVID is a complex condition that develops during or after having COVID, and it is classified as such when symptoms continue for more than 12 weeks.

“Just over two million people in the UK are thought to suffer with Long COVID and it affects people in different ways.”

Professor Vassiliou added: “Breathlessness, a cough, heart palpitations, headaches, and severe fatigue are among the most prevalent symptoms.

“Other symptoms may include chest pain or tightness, brain fog, insomnia, dizziness, joint pain, depression and anxiety, tinnitus, loss of appetite, headaches, and changes to sense of smell or taste.

“We wanted to find out what factors might make people more or less susceptible to developing Long COVID.”

During the study, the team of academics examined the health outcomes of 1,487 people, all of whom had contracted COVID-19 in 2020.

Each participant filled in a virtual questionnaire to outline whether or not they were experiencing any symptoms of Long COVID, such as anxiety, extreme tiredness, cognitive complications, chest pain and breathing problems.

The results show that more than 770 of the participants were experiencing continuous symptoms of the coronavirus.

Professor Vassiliou noted: “We show that more than a half of the survey respondents who tested positive for COVID in the East of England during the first year of the pandemic went on to report Long COVID symptoms.

“All of these people were infected in the months before the COVID vaccination programme was rolled out and they suffered from numerous new symptoms that were not present before their COVID infection.”

Professor Vassiliou added: “Interestingly, we found that more women than men had Long COVID symptoms. We also found that having a higher BMI was linked with Long COVID.

“This is really important because information like this can be used to profile those people who are ‘at risk’ of developing Long COVID.”

Professor Vassiliou concluded: “We also found that people with Long COVID were over three times more likely to use healthcare services than those who didn’t display Long COVID symptoms.

“We hope that our work will help policymakers plan local services and also inform the wider public of the scale of the Long COVID pandemic.”

Fellow academic Dr Mark Lim said: “When COVID-19 struck it was new to everyone. All clinicians and the wider health and care system worked extremely hard together to deal with the impacts of the virus and protect our people and communities.

“Our academic colleagues at the University of East Anglia have really helped local health and care organisations to identify local patients at risk of long Covid, helping us to do all we can to support them on their recovery journey.”

Read the study in full in the journal, PLOS Global Public Health.

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