Pulmonary function and radiological features 4 months after COVID-19: first results from the national prospective observational Swiss COVID-19 lung study

Eur Respir J. 2021 Apr 29;57(4):2003690. doi: 10.1183/13993003.03690-2020. Print 2021 Apr.


Background: The infectious coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is an ongoing global healthcare challenge. Up to one-third of hospitalised patients develop severe pulmonary complications and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Pulmonary outcomes following COVID-19 are unknown.

Methods: The Swiss COVID-19 lung study is a multicentre prospective cohort investigating pulmonary sequelae of COVID-19. We report on initial follow-up 4 months after mild/moderate or severe/critical COVID-19 according to the World Health Organization severity classification.

Results: 113 COVID-19 survivors were included (mild/moderate n=47, severe/critical n=66). We confirmed several comorbidities as risk factors for severe/critical disease. Severe/critical disease was associated with impaired pulmonary function, i.e. diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (D LCO) % predicted, reduced 6-min walk distance (6MWD) and exercise-induced oxygen desaturation. After adjustment for potential confounding by age, sex and body mass index (BMI), patients after severe/critical COVID-19 had a D LCO 20.9% pred (95% CI 12.4-29.4% pred, p=0.01) lower at follow-up. D LCO % pred was the strongest independent factor associated with previous severe/critical disease when age, sex, BMI, 6MWD and minimal peripheral oxygen saturation at exercise were included in the multivariable model (adjusted odds ratio per 10% predicted 0.59, 95% CI 0. 37-0.87; p=0.01). Mosaic hypoattenuation on chest computed tomography at follow-up was significantly associated with previous severe/critical COVID-19 including adjustment for age and sex (adjusted OR 11.7, 95% CI 1.7-239; p=0.03).

Conclusions: 4 months after severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection, severe/critical COVID-19 was associated with significant functional and radiological abnormalities, potentially due to small-airway and lung parenchymal disease. A systematic follow-up for survivors needs to be evaluated to optimise care for patients recovering from COVID-19.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Switzerland / epidemiology