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More than 50 Long-term effects of COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis

By Sandra Lopez-Leon, Talia Wegman-Ostrosky, Carol Perelman, Rosalinda Sepulveda, Paulina A Rebolledo, Angelica Cuapio, Sonia Villapol

Posted 29 Jan 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.27.21250617

COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, can involve sequelae and other medical complications that last weeks to months after initial recovery, which has come to be called Long-COVID or COVID long-haulers. This systematic review and meta-analysis aims to identify studies assessing long-term effects of COVID-19 and estimates the prevalence of each symptom, sign, or laboratory parameter of patients at a post-COVID-19 stage. LitCOVID (PubMed and Medline) and Embase were searched by two independent researchers. All articles with original data for detecting long-term COVID-19 published before 1st of January 2021 and with a minimum of 100 patients were included. For effects reported in two or more studies, meta-analyses using a random-effects model were performed using the MetaXL software to estimate the pooled prevalence with 95% CI. Heterogeneity was assessed using I2 statistics. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviewers and Meta-analysis (PRISMA) reporting guideline was followed. A total of 18,251 publications were identified, of which 15 met the inclusion criteria. The prevalence of 55 long-term effects was estimated, 21 meta-analyses were performed, and 47,910 patients were included. The follow-up time ranged from 15 to 110 days post-viral infection. The age of the study participants ranged between 17 and 87 years. It was estimated that 80% (95% CI 65-92) of the patients that were infected with SARS-CoV-2 developed one or more long-term symptoms. The five most common symptoms were fatigue (58%), headache (44%), attention disorder (27%), hair loss (25%), and dyspnea (24%). All meta-analyses showed medium (n=2) to high heterogeneity (n=13). In order to have a better understanding, future studies need to stratify by sex, age, previous comorbidities, severity of COVID-19 (ranging from asymptomatic to severe), and duration of each symptom. From the clinical perspective, multi-disciplinary teams are crucial to developing preventive measures, rehabilitation techniques, and clinical management strategies with whole-patient perspectives designed to address long COVID-19 care.

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