Signs of the disease can include breathing problems, brain fog, chronic cough, changes in taste and smell, overwhelming fatigue, difficulty performing functions of daily living, and trouble sleeping, which can be persistent. Months or even years after the infection clears the body. .
“We found that participants with two or more types of psychological distress prior to infection had a 50% greater risk of long-term illness with Covid,” said study co-author Dr. Siwen Wang, researcher in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public. Health in Boston.
“Higher levels of mental stress prior to covid infection also increased the risk of long-term covid illness by 50%,” Wang said. “These people also reported more symptoms seen in the long Covid. »
It’s possible that some could use the study’s findings to support a hypothesis involving post-Covid illness is psychosomatic, a common belief early in the pandemic, said Dr. Wesley Ely, Professor of Medicine and Critical Care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He did not take part in the study.
Instead, the message of the study should be that people with existing mental health distress are closer to the Long Covid “catastrophe,” said Ely, co-director of Vanderbilt’s Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction and Survivorship Center.
“Imagine 10 people running a race and you give five people a head start,” Ely said. “These are the people who have already had a mental health problem – they are just closer to the unfortunate finish line of becoming Covid for a long time. »
The mind-body connection
The idea that mental stress can negatively affect the body is not new. It’s also a two-way street: chronic illness is strongly associated with the development of depression and other mental disorders.
In common non-infectious conditions like heart disease, “depression/anxiety/emotional distress seems to play a role,” said Dr. Joseph Bienvenu, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. in Baltimore. , in an email. He did not take part in the study.
People with major depression may develop blood pressure problems and may be more likely to have a heart attack. Chronic depression, stress, and anxiety have been linked to insomnia, and a lack of quality sleep is a major reason for the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.
And mental stress has been shown to weaken the immune system, said study co-author Dr. Angela Roberts, associate professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Stanford University in California.
“Your brain and your immune system are very closely linked,” Roberts said. “Studies have shown that when you’re depressed or anxious, your immune system doesn’t work as well against targets like viruses and bacteria. »
Some patients continue to suffer
To conduct the new study, the researchers worked with nearly 55,000 people with no history of COVID-19 enrolled in three large longitudinal studies: the Nurses’ Health Study II, the Nurses’ Health Study 3, and the Nurses’ Health Study 3 Growing Today . Participants in these studies tend to be predominantly female and white, which the study says could limit the generalizability of the results to a larger population.
Participants were polled fairly about their mental health in April 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. They continued to complete monthly mental health surveys for six months, then quarterly. After a year, the researchers reduced the subject pool to almost 3,200 people who had Covid-19 and met the study conditions.
“This study is particularly interesting because participants’ baseline characteristics were assessed over time independently of their subsequent Covid symptoms,” said Johns Hopkins. says welcome.
Compared to people without mental distress, those with depression and loneliness were 1.32 times more likely to develop long Covid symptoms. Participants who were highly concerned about the coronavirus – mainly people of color, women and asthmatics – developed a 1.37 times greater risk of developing long Covid, according to the study.
Anxiety was associated with a higher risk — 1.42 times more likely — but people with higher levels of perceived stress were almost 50% more likely to develop post-Covid symptoms, said Wang, co-author of the study.
All associations between mental stress and long Covid remained important even after the researchers adjusted for demographics, body weight, smoking status, and history of asthma, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure or cholesterol.
In addition, all types of psychological distress except loneliness were associated with a higher risk of not being able to perform activities of daily living due to long periods of time. Covid symptoms.
While many long-standing Covid cases are mild and resolve within months, other patients continue to suffer for a longer period of time. Some still haven’t regained their quality of life more than two years after the pandemic began, according to Dr. Aaron Friedberg, a clinical assistant professor of internal medicine who works in the post-Covid recovery program at Wexner Medical Center in Washington. Ohio State University at Columbus. .
“They can’t think, they can’t breathe. I have one person whose illness is so severe they can barely get out of bed,” Friedberg said in a previous interview with CNN. “I recently saw a person who is still not working two years later due to Covid symptoms. »
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