Risk Factors for “Long COVID” in Rheumatology Patients

People with rheumatologic conditions are more likely to experience COVID-19 symptoms lasting longer than a month, and this is affected by smoking or preexisting conditions.

Investigators at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City found that over half of patients with rheumatic diseases who contracted COVID-19 had prolonged symptoms that lasted a month or longer after initial infection.

Rheumatic diseases cause the immune system to attack its own joints, muscles, bones, and organs, and patients with these comorbidities may experience “long COVID.”

The study was led by HSS rheumatologist Medha Barbhaiya, MD, MPH, a rheumatologist at HSS who led the study. “For rheumatology patients, long-haul COVID may be particularly challenging as these patients already have significant chronic health issues and [long-haul COVID] warrants further investigation.”

Barbhaiya and her team presented the findings of their study, “Risk Factors for ‘Long Haul’ COVID-19 in Rheumatology Outpatients in New York City,” at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR).

The investigators surveyed 2572 adults via email who were treated for rheumatologic conditions and tested positive for COVID-19 from 2018-2020. 56% of the respondents said their COVID-19 symptoms lasted longer than 1 month.

The risk of long-haul COVID-19 was significant in rheumatology patients who were smokers, or had comorbidities such as asthma, cancer, lung disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, congestive heart failure, or myocardial infarction.

The results prompted the investigators to conduct longitudinal analysis of rheumatology patients with long-haul COVID-19 to determine if lingering symptoms interfered with rheumatologic conditions.