Do you know the 12 symptoms that define long COVID?

In the realm of understanding long COVID, researchers have studied the collection of post-infection conditions that persist after an individual has recovered from COVID-19.

These symptoms can last for months or even years. The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health and published in the medical journal JAMA last week, aims to identify the most prevalent symptoms associated with long COVID, offering valuable insights for the development of much-needed treatment options.

Study author Dr Leora Horwitz emphasised the significance of this research in moving beyond individual symptoms and establishing a comprehensive understanding of long COVID. 

“This approach – which may evolve over time – will serve as a foundation for scientific discovery and treatment design,” she said.

By analysing data from 9764 adults, including 8646 individuals who had previously contracted COVID-19 and 1118 who had not, the researchers identified the 12 symptoms most frequently observed in cases of long COVID. 

These symptoms are:

  • post-exertional malaise (debilitating fatigue that gets worse after physical or mental activity)
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • dizziness
  • gastrointestinal symptoms
  • heart palpitations
  • issues with sexual desire or capacity
  • loss of smell or taste
  • thirst
  • chronic cough
  • chest pain.

The study also highlighted that a variety of other symptoms were reported by a smaller number of patients.

It identified 37 symptoms that were more commonly present after six months in individuals who had previously contracted COVID-19 (and recovered) compared to those who had not.

The study further revealed that long COVID, also known as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), was more prevalent and severe among participants who were infected prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant in 2021, those who remained unvaccinated, and individuals who experienced reinfection.


There is no test for long COVID. Diagnosing it means doctors have to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. This can be frustrating for people living with long COVID as they want to understand what is happening with their bodies as quickly as possible.

For many people symptoms continue for a few weeks after having COVID-19, such as cough or fatigue. Most people do not develop long COVID. It is not known how many people develop the condition, however, it is likely less than one in 20 people.

There are many things that can change a person’s risk of getting long COVID:

  • Vaccination – it is less likely that a vaccinated person will develop long COVID.
  • The variant of COVID-19 – different variants of COVID-19 can affect a person’s chances of getting long COVID. For example, the Omicron variant is less likely to result in long COVID than the Delta variant.
  • Your age and sex – younger people and males are less likely to develop long COVID.
  • Underlying health conditions – people with certain pre-existing conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and asthma, are more likely to develop long COVID.

The study authors call their findings a “first step” for identifying cases of the condition, and say they hope it “serves as a launching point” for further research.

Also read: Vitamin deficiency linked to long COVID risk

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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