June 8, 2021 – Obesity – an established major risk factor in the development of severe infection or death from COVID-19 infection – also appears to significantly increase the risk of developing long-term complications of the disease, a syndrome often referred to as long-haul COVID-19, according to a new study.
“To our knowledge, this current study suggests for the first time that patients with moderate to severe obesity are at greater risk of developing long-term complications from COVID-19 beyond the acute phase,” the author Study principal Ali Aminian, MD, director of the Bariatric & Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, said in a press release.
The study included 2,839 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 in the Cleveland Clinic health system between March and July 2020 who did not need to be admitted to intensive care and survived the initial phase of COVID-19.
Doctors looked for three indicators of possible long-term complications from COVID-19 – hospital admission, death, and the need for diagnostic medical tests – that occurred 30 days or more after the first positive viral test for COVID-19
Within 10 months of their initial infection with COVID-19, 44% of patients required hospitalization and 1% had died.
The need for diagnostic tests after infection was 25% higher in people with moderate obesity (BMI 35 to 39.9) and 39% higher in people with severe obesity (BMI of >40), compared to those with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.
Specifically, people who were obese were more likely to require diagnostic tests for the heart, lungs and kidneys; for gastrointestinal or hormonal symptoms; or blood disorders; and for mental health issues following COVID-19 infection.
However, obesity was not associated with a higher risk of death during the follow-up period.
The results suggest that the effects of obesity go beyond worsening the infection and influence symptoms in the long term.
“The findings from this study may possibly be explained by the underlying mechanisms at work in obese patients, such as hyperinflammation, immune dysfunction and co-morbidities,” said lead author Bartolome Burguera, MD , PhD, in the Cleveland Clinic press release.
Although a wide range of milder long-term effects after infection with COVID-19, including psychological symptoms, fatigue, brain fog, muscle weakness, and difficulty sleeping, have been reported, the present study did not include information about these symptoms.
However, even the finding that up to 44% of patients had to be hospitalized after COVID-19 – regardless of their weight – is concerning, the authors noted.
“These results suggest a profound magnitude of the impact on public health of [long-haul COVID-19] as part of the global infection, ”they wrote.
the study is published in the journal Diabetes, obesity and metabolism.
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