Variations in respiratory and functional symptoms at four months after hospitalisation due to COVID-19: a cross-sectional study

BMC Pulm Med. 2024 Jan 31;24(1):63. doi: 10.1186/s12890-024-02866-5.


Background: Much remains unknown about complex respiratory symptoms after COVID-19. Here we aimed to describe and analyse patients' various respiratory symptoms 4 months after discharge from hospitalisation for COVID-19, focusing on sex, previous pulmonary disease, and prolonged mechanical ventilation.

Methods: This cross-sectional study involved five hospitals and included 52 patients with self-assessed respiratory dysfunction at 4 months after discharge from hospitalisation for severe COVID-19. Their average age was 63 years, 38% were women, 15 had a previous diagnosed pulmonary disease, and 29 were current or previous smokers. Additionally, 31 had required intensive care-among whom 21 were intubated and 11 needed mechanical ventilation for ≥20 days. Respiratory function was tested concerning lung volumes, expiratory flow, muscle strength, physical capacity (including concurrent oxygen saturation), thoracic expansion, and respiratory movements.

Results: Among 52 patients, 47 (90%) had one or several objectively measured respiratory function abnormalities. Decreased thoracic expansion was observed in 32 patients (62%), abnormal respiratory movements in 30 (58%), decreased vital capacity in 21 (40%), low physical function in 13 (26%), and desaturation during the test in 9 (17%). Respiratory inspiratory muscle strength was more commonly diminished than expiratory strength (27% vs. 8%). We did not observe differences between men and women, or between patients with versus without diagnosed pulmonary disease, except that those with pulmonary disease had significantly lower physical capacity assessed with 6MWD (70% vs. 88% predicted, p = 0.013). Compared to those who did not, patients who required ≥20 days of mechanical ventilation performed similarly on most tests, except that all thoracic breathing movements were significantly smaller (p < 0.05). The numbers and combinations of abnormal findings varied widely, without clear patterns.

Conclusion: Patients with remaining respiratory symptoms 4 months after discharge from hospitalization due to COVID-19 may suffer from various abnormal breathing functions, and dysfunctional breathing that is not detected using traditional measurements. These patients may benefit from multidimensional measuring of breathing movement, thoracic expansion, and respiratory muscle strength, along with traditional measurements, to assess their symptoms and enable prescription of optimal treatment interventions and rehabilitation.

Trial registration: FoU i Sverige (Research & Development in Sweden, Registration number: 274476, registered 2020-05-28).

Keywords: Breathing pattern; Dysfunctional breathing; Long-COVID; Physiotherapy evaluation; Post-COVID condition; Respiratory symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exhalation
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiration