By Health In Five Writer
The coronavirus is leaving a long-term mark on those unfortunate enough to be struck by this disease. It has already resulted in 927,000 death worldwide but even those who have recovered out of the 19.8 million are suffering due to aftereffects of the disease.
European Respiratory Society International Congress believes that Covid-19 patients can suffer long-term lung and heart damage but, in majority cases, this tends to improve over time, according to the first, prospective follow-up of patients infected with the coronavirus.
Researchers in the coronavirus ‘hot spot’ in the Tyrolean region of Austria recruited consecutive coronavirus patients to their study, who were hospitalised at the University Clinic of Internal Medicine in Innsbruck, the St Vinzenz Hospital in Zams or the cardio-pulmonary rehabilitation centre in Munster, Austria.
In their presentation to the virtual congress, they reported on the first 86 patients enrolled between 29 April and 9 June, although now they have over 150 patients participating. The patients were scheduled to return for evaluation six, 12 and 24 weeks after their discharge from the hospital.
During these visits, clinical examinations, laboratory tests, analysis of the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in arterial blood, lung function tests, computed tomography (CT) scans and echocardiograms were carried out.
At the time of their first visit, more than half of the patients had at least one persistent symptom, predominantly breathlessness and coughing, and CT scans still showed lung damage in 88 per cent of patients.
However, by the time of their next visit 12 weeks after discharge, the symptoms had improved and lung damage was reduced to 56 per cent. At this stage, it is too early to have resulted from the evaluations at 24 weeks.
“The bad news is that people show lung impairment from COVID-19 weeks after discharge; the good news is that the impairment tends to ameliorate over time, which suggests the lungs have a mechanism for repairing themselves,” said Dr Sabina Sahanic, who is a clinical PhD student at the University Clinic in Innsbruck and part of the team that carried out the study, which includes Associate Professor Ivan Tancevski, Professor Judith Loffler-Ragg and Dr Thomas Sonnweber in Innsbruck, was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
A total of 56 patients showed persistent symptoms at the time of their six-week visit; breathlessness (dyspnoea) was the most common symptom, followed by coughing. By the 12-week visit, breathlessness had improved and was present in 31 patients ; however, 13 patients were still coughing.
At the six-week visit, the echocardiograms showed that 48 patients had dysfunction of the left ventricle of the heart at the point when it is relaxing and dilating (diastole). Biological indicators of heart damage, blood clots and inflammation were all significantly elevated.
Dr Sahanic said: “We do not believe left ventricular diastolic dysfunction is specific to COVID-19, but more a sign of the severity of the disease in general. Fortunately, in the Innsbruck cohort, we did not observe any severe coronavirus-associated heart dysfunction in the post-acute phase. The diastolic dysfunction that we observed also tended to improve with time.
“The findings from this study show the importance of implementing structured follow-up care for patients with severe COVID-19 infection. Importantly, CT unveiled lung damage in this patient group that was not identified by lung function tests. Knowing how patients have been affected long-term by the coronavirus might enable symptoms and lung damage to be treated much earlier and might have a significant impact on further medical recommendations and advice,” she added.