COVID-19 Symptoms Over Time: Comparing Long-Haulers to ME/CFS

Fatigue. 2021;9(2):59-68. doi: 10.1080/21641846.2021.1922140. Epub 2021 May 5.


Introduction: Our objective was to determine which symptoms among long-hauler COVID-19 patients change over time, and how their symptoms compare to another chronic illness group. 278 long-haulers completed two symptom questionnaires at one time point, with one recounting experiences from an average of 21.7 weeks prior.

Methods: We used a comparison group of 502 patients diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Participants completed a standardized symptom questionnaire and a list of additional CDC COVID-19 symptoms.

Results: Over time, the long-haulers reported an overall reduction of most symptoms including unrefreshing sleep and post-exertional malaise, but an intensification of neurocognitive symptoms. When compared to ME/CFS, the COVID-19 sample was initially more symptomatic for the immune and orthostatic domains but over time, the long-haulers evidenced significantly less severe symptoms than those with ME/CFS, except in the orthostatic domain. Among the COVID-19 long haulers, several neurocognitive symptoms got worse over time, whereas improvements occurred in most other areas.

Conclusions: These types of differential patterns of symptoms over time might contribute to helping better understand the pathophysiology of those reporting prolonged illness following COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; Long-Haulers; Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; SARS CoV-2 virus.