One Third of Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients Have Changes in Lungs a Year After Infection

While the majority of COVID-19 patients made a full recovery, some still showed signs of reduced lung functioning during the study period.

A recent study conducted by investigators from the University of Southampton, in collaboration with investigators from Wuhan, China, has discovered that up to 1/3 of patients who were hospitalized with a COVID-19 infection show evidence of effects on their lungs 1 year later.

Results from the study were published in the journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

"The majority of patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia appeared to fully recover, although for some patients this took many months,” Mark Jones, a co-lead author on the study said. “Women were more likely to have persistent reductions in lung function tests and further investigation is needed to understand if there is a sex specific difference in how patient's recover. We also don't yet know what happens beyond 12 months and this will need ongoing study."

For the study, the team of investigators followed 83 COVID-19 patients after they were discharged from a hospital. Follow up was conducted at 3, 6 and 12 months.

At each follow up, the participants underwent a clinical assessment, including measures of how well their lungs were functioning, a walking test and a CT scan of their chest.

Findings from the study demonstrated that over a 12 month period, most of the patients showed an improvement in symptoms, exercise capacity and COVID-19 related CT changes. By the end of the study period, the majority fully recovered.

However, 1/3 of the participants still showed reduced lung functioning, particularly how efficient their lungs transferred oxygen into their blood. Additionally, around 1/4 of the participants showed signs of changes in their lungs in CT scans.

"Firstly, our research provides evidence that routine respiratory follow-up of patients hospitalized with COVID-19-pneumonia is required,” Yihua Wang, a co-author on the study said. “Secondly, given the length of time it takes for some patients to recover it suggests that research into whether exercise programmed help patients recover more quickly is required. Finally, it highlights the need for treatment strategies to prevent the development of long term COVID-19 related lung changes."

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