The risk of contracting long COVID may have been exaggerated due to flawed research, leading to unnecessarily high levels of anxiety about suffering from it, a new study has suggested.
“Major flaws” in the literature on the condition likely exaggerated the true threat of contracting it, the new research argues.
For most people with COVID-19, they feel better within days or weeks, but some can have symptoms for longer than three months.
Fatigue, brain fog, chest pain and shortness of breath are reported as symptoms by those who have long COVID – which is officially known as post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC).
Now, researchers from the UK, along with Denmark and the USA, say “many scientific publications” overestimated the prevalence of long COVID because of “overly broad definitions, lack of control groups, inappropriate control groups, and other methodological flaws”.
Instead, the authors of the new study argue that the symptoms are common among upper respiratory viruses.
The research team said this lack of definition could end up leading to an increase in healthcare spending and more anxiety, as well as misdiagnoses and a diversion of funds.
Concerns about too many symptoms and no required link to COVID
Published in the British Medical Journal’s Evidence-Based Medicine, the new paper looked at the definition of the condition by several global health organisations – including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The study argues none of the definitions “requires a causal link” to COVID-19 infection, adding any symptoms that happen after a confirmed or suspected infection could be considered consistent with long COVID.
“In general, in the scientific literature, imprecise definitions have resulted in more than 200 symptoms being associated with the condition termed long COVID,” the researchers said.
Researchers also said the studies in the early stages of the pandemic are more likely to have included fewer patients with mild or no symptoms, which could have led to a sampling bias.
They said: “Our analysis indicates that, in addition to including appropriately matched controls, there is a need for better case definitions and more stringent (long COVID) criteria, which