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While most people who develop COVID recover after several weeks, there has been considerable attention paid to the subset of individuals who have symptoms that last longer than four weeks. This is known as post-COVID-19 condition (PCC) or long COVID. 

People with long COVID are at increased risk for a wide range of adverse cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions and mortality, according to the one of the largest national studies that includes both a control group and long-term follow-up. It’s clear that long COVID is a serious health condition requiring additional study and monitoring.

Findings: Researchers found that 2.8% of the people who experienced long COVID died during the follow-up period, while 1.2% of those who didn’t have COVID died. Those with long COVID also were more likely to seek care in the following 12 months for:

  • Cardiovascular events, including cardiac arrhythmias, ischemic stroke, heart failure, and coronary artery disease.
  • Pulmonary events, including pulmonary embolism, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

While these risks were heightened for people with more severe COVID-19 (i.e., requiring hospitalization), 72.5% of people in the long COVID group did not experience hospitalization during the acute phase of COVID and still had increased adverse outcomes over the research period.

People with long COVID experienced:

3.64x more pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs)

2.35x more cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)

2.17x more ischemic stroke (blood clot in the brain)

What’s Next: “We know from published literature that long COVID can result in fatigue, headache and attention disorder,” said Andrea DeVries, staff vice president for Health Services Research at Elevance Health and the lead author of the study. “While those conditions are concerning, the results from this study point to even more worrisome outcomes that can severely impact quality and length of life for individuals with long COVID.”

“While we have made impressive strides in our ability to prevent and treat COVID-19, this study points to the need for care management programs like those developed by Elevance Health to better identify and help individuals at high risk for long COVID,” said Jennifer Kowalski, vice president of the Elevance Health Public Policy Institute. “From a policy perspective, these results can inform understanding of future health care utilization, labor force participation and analysis of public program spending and outcomes.”

Methodology: This case-control study included members of commercial health plans and used national insurance claims data enhanced with laboratory results and mortality data from the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File and Datavant Flatiron data. The study sample consisted of 13,435 adults meeting a claims-based definition for PCC with a control cohort of 26,870 adults with no evidence of COVID-19 from April 1, 2020, to July 31, 2021.

Read the Study:

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