Long Covid can cause long-term damage to major organs, new study finds


MRI scans of patients showed more abnormal findings in the lungs, brain and kidneys compared to people who don’t have Covid (Picture: PA)

Nearly a third of patients admitted to hospital with long Covid had abnormalities in multiple organs five months after infection, a study has found.

MRI scans of patients showed more abnormal findings in the lungs, brain and kidneys compared to a group of people who did not have Covid.

Abnormalities in the lungs were significantly higher (almost 14-fold higher) among patients discharged from hospital with Covid, the research found.

Abnormal findings involving the brain and kidneys were three and two times higher respectively.

The study, published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine, looked at 259 patients who fell so ill with Covid they were admitted to hospital.

MRI scans of their major organs showed some significant differences when compared to a group of 52 people who never had Covid, five months after they were discharged.

The extent of abnormalities was often influenced by the severity of the Covid infection, their age, and comorbidities (other conditions).

The findings are part of the C-MORE (Capturing the MultiORgan Effects of Covid-19) study, which is being led by Betty Raman, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Oxford.

The extent of abnormalities was often influenced by the severity of the Covid infection, their age, and comorbidities (other conditions) (Picture: PA)

She said: ‘We found that nearly one in three patients had an excess burden of multiorgan abnormalities on MRI relative to controls.

‘At five months after hospital discharge for Covid-19, patients showed a high burden of abnormalities involving the lungs, brain and kidneys compared to our non-Covid-19 controls.

‘The age of the individual, severity of acute Covid-19 infection, as well as comorbidities, were significant factors in determining who had organ injury at follow-up.’

She added: ‘In patients without organ-specific comorbidities, the damage may well be due to severe Covid-19 infections.

‘The pattern of injury can also give us some clues. For example, the pattern of lung changes which map on to ground glass changes on CT scans suggest that this is related.

‘The presence of kidney injury in someone with a previously normal creatinine and no renal disease may well be Covid-19-associated changes.

‘Yes, we think that comorbidities (for example diabetes, cardiac disease etc) lower the reserve of organs and potentially play a role in delayed recovery, but we see organ abnormalities even in those without comorbidities.’

But Dr Raman said people who had been suffering with long Covid should feel hopeful the research was ongoing, and there were some answers.

She explained: ‘It (the research) provides some validation to patients, especially those who are severely crippled with symptoms, that perhaps there is something that we need to look into and follow up and do more tests to be sure that they don’t have organ involvement.’

These findings are part of a wider study looking at the long-term effects of Covid on those who were hospitalised, known as the Phosp-Covid study.

The researchers found some symptoms matched up with signs of organ damage revealed by the MRI scans like a tight chest and cough with abnormalities in the lungs.

But not all of the symptoms experienced by those living with long Covid could be directly linked to what was seen on the scans.

Undated handout photo issued by the University of Aberdeen their MRI scanner, it already had 17 different languages programmed into it but now, with help from the university???s Elphinstone Institute, the machine can issue instructions in Doric. Issue date: Friday January 28, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SCOTLAND Doric . Photo credit should read: University of Aberdeen/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

It is hoped the new research with provide answers for people suffering with long Covid (Picture: PA)

Dr Raman said abnormalities in more than one organ were more common among people who had been admitted to hospital and were still reporting physical and mental health problems after they had recovered from the initial infection.

She said: ‘What we are seeing is that people with multi-organ pathology on MRI – that is, they had more than two organs affected – were four times more likely to report severe and very severe mental and physical impairment.

‘Our findings also highlight the need for longer term multidisciplinary follow-up services focused on pulmonary and extrapulmonary health (kidneys, brain and mental health), particularly for those hospitalised for Covid.’

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