Study finds a quarter of people with COVID-19 had new medical problems after

A quarter of people who had COVID-19 sought care for new medical problems at least a month after their diagnosis, according to a large study published on Tuesday, indicating the prevalence of long-haul COVID-19.

The research conducted by nonprofit FAIR Health determined from private health insurance claims that 23.2 percent of COVID-19 patients — amounting to more than 450,000 people — sought care for at least one post-COVID-19 symptom at least 30 days after diagnosis.

The study analyzed health records from almost 2 million people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between February and December 2020 and tracked whether they developed new symptoms until February 2021. FAIR Health said the research is the largest to its knowledge looking into long-haul conditions among COVID-19 patients. 

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The most common new post-COVID-19 condition reported by the hundreds of thousands of patients was pain — including nerve inflammation and aches and pains — with more than 5 percent, or almost 100,000, reporting the symptom.

Breathing difficulties, high cholesterol, malaise and fatigue as well as high blood pressure were the next most common conditions. Intestinal symptoms, migraines, skin problems, heart abnormalities, sleep disorders and mental health conditions were also reported. 

Patients did not have to have symptomatic COVID-19 to develop these conditions, as 19 percent of people who said they were asymptomatic reported these symptoms at least a month after diagnosis. 

Almost 50 percent of patients who were hospitalized later reported post-COVID-19 conditions, as did 27 percent of those who reported mild or moderate symptoms. 

FAIR Health said an independent academic reviewer examined the study, but the research was not peer-reviewed. 

The study only included patients with private health insurance or Medicare Advantage, leaving out those who are uninsured or covered by Medicare Parts A, B and D and Medicaid. Patients with chronic pre-existing conditions were not included in the study due to the difficulty of distinguishing any post-COVID-19 symptoms from symptoms associated with the existing disease.

The research also did not compare the rates of post-COVID-19 conditions among people who did not have COVID-19, making it unclear if increases in these symptoms surpassed the levels of the general population.