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  • A new study finds that most people will recover from long COVID after a year.
  • Researchers found evidence that antibodies associated with autoimmune illnesses and elevated levels of proteins called cytokines were higher in people with persistent symptoms.
  • Symptoms of long covid include fatigue, difficulty breathing, cough, headaches, body aches, and even cognitive symptoms affecting concentration and sleep.

New research published this month in the European Respiratory Journal finds that regardless of severity, about 75% of people will recover from long COVID within 12 months.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) anyone who has experienced COVID-19 infection can experience long COVID symptoms, even those who had a mild illness or even no symptoms at all.

Researchers also discovered that patients with persistent symptoms had antibodies associated with autoimmune illnesses and elevated levels of proteins called cytokines, which can cause inflammation.

According to Christopher Calandrella, DO, chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in Queens, long COVID is a term that refers to a variety of symptoms that can’t be explained by another diagnosis and last four weeks or longer after an acute COVID-19 infection.

“It has also been referred to as post-COVID conditions, post-COVID Syndrome or PASC (post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2),” he told Healthline.

Calandrella explained that symptoms patients may experience include fatigue, difficulty breathing, cough, headaches, body aches, and even cognitive symptoms affecting concentration and sleep.

“Patients may also experience anxiety and depression,” he said. “As these symptoms could be caused by many different health conditions, patients should seek medical care if they have persistent symptoms without other obvious identifiable causes.”

For this study, researchers surveyed 106 people recovering from COVID-19 infection at 3, 6, and 12 months after recuperating from the disease.

All surveyed patients were otherwise healthy, and had no pre-existing autoimmune conditions or other underlying diseases before the pandemic.

“Generally, one should not worry if they are feeling unwell right after their infection, as the chances of recovering within 12 months is very high, and just because you have typical long COVID symptoms at three months does not mean they will stay forever,” senior author Dr. Manali Mukherjee, an assistant Professor of Medicine at McMaster University said in a statement.

By 12 months about 75 % of those surveyed had no COVID-related symptoms.

Mukherjee said that they saw a link in the recovery of patients and their levels of cyokines and autoantibodies in their systems.

They found in patients who recovered, a reduction in autoantibodies and cytokines was matched by their symptoms improving, and those with persistent symptoms had elevated antibody and cytokine levels after one year.

“Sometimes, while the body is fighting the virus, the immune system gets so amped up that, in addition to making antibodies that kill the virus, it can produce those that attack the host,” Mukherjee said in a statement.

“However, the general tendency of the body after it fights a severe virus like SARS-CoV2, is to recover, and it’s often paced out varying from individual to individual,” she added.

According to Mukherjee if you still feel unwell at 12 months with persistent or worsening symptoms, you should “definitely” seek medical attention.

She recommended that patients with persistent long COVID symptoms see a rheumatologist since they specialize in autoimmune disorders and could better assess the need for early intervention.

Mukherjee emphasized that “most” patients with long COVID are currently assessed by doctors not specializing in autoimmunity, like pulmonologists, respiratory specialists, or infectious disease specialists.

Calandrella said there is a range of autoimmune treatment options for persistent long COVID.

“Based on this research, patients that continue to experience symptoms beyond 12 months may have their treatment focused on autoimmune therapies which may include anti-inflammatory medications, antihistamines, and other drugs that target the immune system,” he said.

Calandrella pointed out that treatment may also include a “broader approach” utilizing a multidisciplinary team to create a customized regimen for each patient based on their symptoms.

Asked if long COVID risk will remain, even after the virus becomes endemic – Calandrella said it’s something that’s hard to predict.

He noted that if COVID-19 becomes an endemic disease, we should continue to see “some level of infection” and disease in the community that potentially could develop into cases of long COVID.

However, Calandrella emphasized that “Based on the current data and research it is difficult to predict any long COVID trends.”

Thomas Gut, DO, director of the Post-COVID Recovery Center at Staten Island University Hospital, part of Northwell Health in New York said it’s safe to assume at this point that long-COVID will “continue to be a problem as COVID becomes endemic.”

“Research shows that almost a quarter of all people that have had COVID before are currently experiencing long-COVID symptoms at this moment,” he continued. “As COVID became a milder acute illness, we did not see long-COVID risk decrease. It’s unfortunately very likely that this trend will continue. “

Your best bet to avoid long COVID is to stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Vaccination so far has been the most effective option for preventing long-COVID,” said Gut.

He added that as more people develop COVID-related symptoms, the pool of information about long-COVID and its risk “will definitely” become much greater.

“Studies with over 100 patients currently are a small step in the right direction,” he said. “But we look forward to further research that examines much larger parts of the population.”

New research finds about 75 percent of people that develop long-COVID after infection will recover after 12 months.

Experts say that even after the virus becomes endemic, long COVID will remain an issue.

They also say that people with long COVID symptoms that last more than 12 months have effective treatment options available to help.