Nearly one-third of older COVID-19 survivors develop new health problems in the months after their infection, a new study finds.
Those conditions involve a number of major organs and systems, including the heart, kidneys, lungs and liver, as well as mental health problems.
With roughly 400 million people infected with the coronavirus worldwide, "the number of survivors with [new conditions] after the acute infection will continue to grow," wrote study author Dr. Ken Cohen and colleagues. Cohen is executive director of translational research at Optum Labs, which is based in Minnesota.
The researchers analyzed 2020 health insurance data from more than 133,000 Americans 65 and older who were diagnosed with COVID before April 1, 2020.
They compared them with groups of people 65 and older from 2019 and 2020 who did not have COVID, and a group diagnosed with viral lower respiratory tract illness.
Among the COVID patients, 32% sought medical attention in the several months after their diagnosis for one or more new or persistent health conditions, which was 11 percentage points higher than the 2020 comparison group.
The researchers found the COVID patients had a higher risk for a number of conditions, including respiratory failure, fatigue, high blood pressure and mental health diagnoses.
And compared with the viral lower respiratory tract illness group, the COVID patients had a higher risk of respiratory failure, dementia and fatigue.
Looking at just the COVID patients, the highest risk for several new health problems was seen in those admitted to the hospital, men, Black patients, and those 75 and older, according to the study. The findings were published Feb. 9 in the BMJ.
This was an observational study, so it can't prove a direct link between COVID-19 and new health problems, said Cohen's team.
Still, these findings further highlight the wide range of important conditions that may develop after infection with COVID, the authors said in a journal news release.
"Understanding the magnitude of risk" might enhance their diagnosis and the management of patients with new problems after COVID infection, they said.
For more on post-COVID-19 conditions, go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Feb. 9, 2022