A new study in Current Medical Research and Opinion reveals that females are “significantly” more likely than males to suffer from long COVID and will experience substantially different symptoms. Long COVID is a syndrome in which complications persist more than 4 weeks after the initial COVID-19 infection, sometimes for many months.
Researchers from the Johnson & Johnson Office of the Chief Medical Officer’s Health of Women Team, who analyzed data from approximately 1.3 million patients, observed females with long COVID present with a variety of symptoms, including ear, nose, and throat issues; mood, neurological, skin, gastrointestinal, and rheumatological disorders; as well as fatigue. Male patients, however, were more likely to experience endocrine disorders, such as diabetes and kidney disorders.
“Knowledge about fundamental sex differences underpinning the clinical manifestations, disease progression, and health outcomes of COVID-19 is crucial for the identification and rational design of effective therapies and public health interventions that are inclusive of and sensitive to the potential differential treatment needs of both sexes,” the authors explain.
“Differences in immune system function between females and males could be an important driver of sex differences in long COVID syndrome. Females mount more rapid and robust innate and adaptive immune responses, which can protect them from initial infection and severity. However, this same difference can render females more vulnerable to prolonged autoimmune-related diseases.”
As part of the review, researchers restricted their search of papers to those published between December 2019 and August 2020 for COVID-19 and between January 2020 and June 2021 for long COVID syndrome. The sample size spanning articles reviewed amounted to 1,393,355 unique individuals.
While the number of participants appears large, only 35 of the 640,634 total articles in the literature provided sex-disaggregated data in sufficient details about symptoms and sequelae of COVID-19 infection to understand how females and males experience the disease differently.
When looking at the early onset of COVID-19, findings show that female patients were far more likely to experience mood disorders such as depression, ear, nose, and throat symptoms, musculoskeletal pain, and respiratory symptoms. Male patients, on the other hand, were more likely to suffer from renal disorders.
The authors note that this synthesis of the available literature is among the few to break down by sex the specific health conditions that occur as a result of COVID-related illness. A number of studies have examined sex differences in hospitalization, ICU admission, ventilation support, and mortality. But the research on the specific conditions that are caused by the virus, and its long-term damage to the body, have been understudied when it comes to sex.
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