Women more likely to develop long COVID

A new study suggests women have significantly greater odds than men of developing complications after the initial infection. The authors called for additional research.

Women appear to be significantly more susceptible to long COVID-19 syndrome, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined literature reviews of COVID-19 studies to examine the possibility of differences in susceptibility to long COVID by gender. Altogether, researchers examined studies involving 1.39 million patients.

“The likelihood of having long COVID syndrome was significantly greater among females,” the authors stated. The study was published June 20 online by Current Medical Research and Opinion.

Researchers examined differences in genders for COVID-related conditions or symptoms that emerged after the acute phase of the coronavirus had ended, and long COVID syndrome. The researchers defined long COVID as the persistence of symptoms or complications beyond 4 weeks of the onset of COVID-19.

Long COVID encompasses a wide variety of symptoms, including extreme fatigue, pulmonary fibrosis, myocarditis, kidney disease, diabetes, and problems sleeping, among others.

The study found women were much more likely than men to develop ENT, GI, neurological, psychiatric and dermatological complications. Men were more likely to experience renal and endocrine disorders, the authors wrote.

The researchers acknowledge the causes of long COVID remain unclear. Women have a faster immune response, which can often protect them from initial infection or more serious symptoms. However, women can be more susceptible to extended autoimmune related diseases, the authors note, and that could explain why long COVID appears to be more common in women.

Women work in some professions, such as nursing and teaching, where they have more contact with people and greater exposure to COVID-19, the authors note. Researchers added there may be gender-based gaps in access to care that could play a role in the development of the illness.

The authors called for much more research involving COVID-19 and the differences in how the disease affects men and women. They noted many studies didn’t include the impact of the disease by gender.

“The lack of studies reporting sex-disaggregated outcomes for COVID-19 speaks to the need for further, large-scale research that includes sex as an analytical variable and that reports data by sex,” the authors wrote.

Some health advocates have been pressing for more urgency in federal studies of long COVID.

U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., wrote a letter to the National Institutes of Health in April expressing their unhappiness about the pace of progress in studies of long COVID. Congress directed $1.15 billion to the NIH for studies of long COVID in 2020.

“We are concerned by reports that the agency has been slow to launch COVID research efforts and prioritized long COVID observational studies over investigations of possible treatments and therapeutics to help those suffering from its symptoms,” the senators wrote in the letter.

Studies have shown that some patients struggle with COVID-19 months after infection, and researchers are still trying to discover the long-term effects of the virus.

It’s still unclear how many Americans are struggling with long COVID, but federal officials estimate millions are affected. The Government Accountability Office said in March that 7.7 million to 23 million Americans have developed long COVID.

More than half of those who had COVID-19 suffered some effects of long COVID six months later, according to a study published in Jama Network Open. The most common issues were functional mobility difficulties, pulmonary abnormalities, and mental health disorders.

A study published in Nature Medicine in February showed COVID-19 can pose long-term risks of cardiovascular problems. The study of more than 153,000 veterans with COVID-19 showed that after the initial 30 days of infection, those who have had COVID-19 have a greater risk for heart disease, stroke, and other complications.