Women more likely than men to develop long COVID, study finds

Women are much more likely than men to experience long-term symptoms of COVID-19, according to a new review.

Johnson researchers & Johnson’s Office of the Chief Medical Officer for Women’s Health analyzed data from studies of 1.3 million patients.

The results, published Tuesday in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion, showed that women are 22% more likely to develop long COVID than men.

“Knowledge of the fundamental gender differences…of COVID-19 is crucial for identifying…effective therapies and public health interventions that include and are sensitive to the potential differential treatment needs of both genders,” the authors said. authors in a press release.

Long COVID occurs when patients who have cleared the infection still have symptoms that last more than four weeks after recovery. In some cases, these symptoms can persist for months or even years.

Patients may experience a variety of persistent symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty breathing, headaches, brain fog, joint and muscle pain, and continued loss of taste and smell, according to the Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention.

Tiffany Patino, struggling with long-term covid symptoms for a year, rests in bed on an afternoon in Rockville, Maryland on December 2, 2021.

The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE

It’s unclear what causes people to develop long COVID, but there are several theories among experts, including the virus lingering in the body, the damage to nerve pathways caused by the virus, and the immune system remaining active after the virus. infection.

The study found that the most common symptoms in women within four weeks of testing positive included ear, nose and throat (ENT) problems; muscle aches and pains; shortness of breath and psychiatric or mood disorders such as depression.

During this time, men were more likely to have kidney disorders such as acute kidney injury.

Not only were the symptoms during COVID-19 infection different in men and women, but the symptoms were also different after developing long COVID.

For women, they had higher rates of long-term symptoms, including fatigue; ENT; gastrointestinal; neurological; skin and psychiatric and/or mood disorders.

Women were at least twice as likely to have long-term ENT symptoms and 60% more likely to have gastrointestinal symptoms.

In contrast, men had higher rates of kidney disorders as well as endocrine disorders, including diabetes.

Several studies in the past have looked at differences in hospitalization, ICU admission, and death from COVID-19, disaggregated by sex.

But the researchers noted that, of more than 600,000 papers analyzed for this study — published between December 2019 and June 2021 — only 35 provided data on symptoms and sequelae of COVID-19 in enough detail to understand how men and women may experience the disease differently.

“Unfortunately, most studies did not assess or report granular data by sex, which limited sex-specific clinical information that could impact treatment,” they wrote.

It’s unclear why women are more susceptible to long COVIDs than men, but the authors said it could be due to differences in how women’s immune systems respond to infection compared to men’s. .

“Women develop faster and more robust innate and adaptive immune responses, which may protect them from initial infection and severity,” they wrote. “However, this same difference may make women more vulnerable to prolonged autoimmune disease.”

Additionally, the team said that women may be at greater risk from COVID-19 because certain professions, such as nursing and education, are largely made up of women, which could – in turn – put them at risk. make it more likely to develop long COVID.

Additionally, “there may be gender disparities in access to care that could affect the natural history of the disease, leading to more complications and [aftereffects]“, wrote the authors in the press release.

The team said they hope more researchers will include detailed sex-disaggregated data on COVID-19 symptoms and effects in their studies to further investigate how differently men and women are affected and whether different treatments are needed.

The authors did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Dr. Roberto Herrera contributed to this report.

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