Symptomatic long COVID may be associated with self-perceived cognitive difficulties such as memory problems, according to a study.
Long COVID is described as experiencing persistent symptoms of the disease more than four weeks after initial infection.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US noted that over one in three people experiencing long COVID symptoms perceived such cognitive deficits, which have been found to be related to anxiety and depression.
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The findings, published recently in the journal JAMA Network Open, show that psychological issues such as anxiety or depressive disorders may play a part in some people who are experiencing long COVID, technically known as post-COVID-19 condition, or PCC.
“This perception of cognitive deficits suggests that affective issues—in this case anxiety and depression—appear to carry over into the long COVID period,” said study senior author Neil Wenger, a professor at UCLA.
“This is not to say that long COVID is all in one’s head, but that it is likely not a single condition and that for some proportion of patients, there is likely a component of anxiety or depression that is exacerbated by the disease,” Wenger said in a statement.
The researchers surveyed 766 patients who had confirmed symptomatic COVID infection and had either been hospitalised at UCLA or at one of 20 healthcare facilities in the US or were referred to the programme by a primary care physician and been treated as outpatients.
Patients were surveyed by telephone at 30 days, 60 days and 90 days following hospital discharge or, in the case of non-hospitalised patients, after the date of a positive COVID test to ascertain if they felt their health was back to normal.
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The researchers found that 276 (36.1%) of the patients surveyed perceived during the acute illness or the following weeks that they had cognitive difficulties.
The study also found that these patients were twice as likely as those without perceived cognitive deficits to report experiencing physical symptoms at 60 and 90 days.
The researchers acknowledged some limitations to the findings. These include a lack of objective cognition measures because the survey relied on subjective responses about cognitive deficits.
They also did not have data on participants’ possible cognition, depression, and anxiety prior to COVID infection.
The findings may not apply to other patient cohorts given that participants were treated at an academic medical centre and were referred to the programme based on physicians’ belief that the patients were at clinically high risk for cognition deficits, the researchers added.