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Long Covid: Condition that affects millions in the UK linked to syndrome in new study

Long Covid: Dr Sara Kayat discusses impact on children

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Long Covid has caused havoc for millions of Britons who have come into contact with the virus, leaving them plagued with symptoms for weeks or months. There is still confusion, however, around the causes of the syndrome. Now, new findings suggest one having unhealthy cholesterol may be linked to long Covid.

Scientists working on the ZOE Health Study made the discovery after analysing the blood sample of 4,787 participants.

They found that those who had higher levels of harmful fats linked to heart disease were more likely to report ongoing symptoms from COVID-19 and non-COVID disease.

According to the NHS, more than two in five people in England are believed to have levels of cholesterol high enough to put them at risk of heart disease.

Doctor Marc Österdahl, clinical fellow and lead author, said: “We saw a clear difference in blood fats of people who had had asymptotic COVID-19 compared to those with long-lasting symptoms.

“The blood markers in asymptomatic people had a healthier pattern that we know is associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes.

“The people with long-lasting symptoms showed high levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ and unhealthy fatty acids.”

While most of the research into long Covid has been conducted on subjects hospitalised with the disease, the latest study honed in on people living in the community, where the majority had been treated for their infection.

The scientists conducted an analysis of the full spectrum of COVID-19-related complications.

They identified participants within the study who had suffered from both asymptomatic COVID-19 infections, and Post COVID-19 syndrome (long Covid).

Other participants were found who experienced Covid-like symptoms despite having negative antibodies for the virus.

According to the NHS, some symptoms of long Covid include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Pins and needles

The comparison between the blood markers of long Covid sufferers and those with non-COVID-19 illness of prolonged duration revealed that both had a set of compounds in their blood commonly seen in patients who are at risk of heart disease and diabetes.

These findings, researchers believe, suggest that the treatment of other diseases may also be applicable to long Covid patients.

Doctor Claire Steves, co-author and lead researcher in the ZOE Health Study, added: “We were able to look at whether changes we saw were specific to COVID-19 or whether they reflected something more general about prolonged symptoms.

“What is interesting is that we saw the same pattern of harmful fats in people with long symptoms in Covid and non-Covid disease.

“We think this might shed light on the experience of long Covid and other conditions where people take time to recover from illness.”

There is no proven treatment for long Covid to date, leaving patients with no choice but to tackle symptoms individually.

Key trials are currently underway for drugs that target the immune system, blood clots and lingering fragments of the coronavirus.

Immunologist Danny Altmann at Imperial College London has explained that funding from the US and UK has mainly gone towards characterising the condition, reported Nature.

Equally, because the definition of the condition has remained elusive, researchers have been prompted to repurpose old drugs for other conditions.

Once the pathology of the condition has been pinpointed, however, this could help narrow the development of new treatments to target the condition.

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