▶ Watch Video: Over 6% of American adults are suffering from long COVID, survey finds

A new study is bringing more understanding to the symptoms of long COVID, the post-infection set of conditions that can last for months or years after a person has COVID-19.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the medical journal JAMA on Thursday, the study identified the 12 most common symptoms associated with long COVID with the aim of helping researchers develop much-need treatment options. 

“This study is an important step toward defining long COVID beyond any one individual symptom,” study author Dr. Leora Horwitz, director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Delivery Science and co-principal investigator for the RECOVER Clinical Science Core at NYU Langone Health, said in a press release. “This approach — which may evolve over time — will serve as a foundation for scientific discovery and treatment design.”

After examining data from 9,764 adults, including 8,646 who had COVID-19 and 1,118 who did not, researchers identified the 12 symptoms that most set apart those with long COVID. The symptoms are: 

  • post-exertional malaise (debilitating fatigue that gets worse after physical or mental activity)
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • dizziness
  • gastrointestinal symptoms
  • heart palpitations
  • issues with sexual desire or capacity
  • loss of smell or taste
  • thirst
  • chronic cough
  • chest pain
  • abnormal movements

A range of other symptoms were reported by smaller numbers of patients, with the study noting 37 symptoms were identified as present more often in those who’d had a COVID infection, after 6 months, than in people who hadn’t been infected.

More than 100 million Americans have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the press release, with about 6% of those continuing to experience and suffer from long COVID symptoms.

“Americans living with long COVID want to understand what is happening with their bodies,” Dr. Rachel L. Levine, assistant secretary for health, said in the release. 

The study found that long COVID — also known as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, or PASC — was more common and severe in study participants who were infected before the 2021 Omicron variant, were unvaccinated, and those who experienced reinfection. 

Previous research has shown that even people whose initial bout with COVID-19 was mild can go on to develop long COVID.

The study authors call their findings a “first step” for identifying cases of the condition, and say they hope it “serves as a launching point” for further research.