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A new review of patients at the Mayo's Post-COVID-19 Care Clinic offers some potentially valuable clues for future treatment of "long COVID."

In the cohort study, published in Mayo Proceedings, researchers looked at the charts of 108 patients suffering from long-haul COVID who came to the care clinic from Jan. 19 to April 29, 2021. The average age of the patients was 46.

They summarized three "major novel findings" from this data:

  1. That women made up 75% (81 out of 108) of all the long COVID patients that sought treatment at the clinic.
  2. These female patients were more likely to have elevated levels of IL-6 — a cytokine related to inflammation — than the male patients.
  3. Ongoing fatigue was the most common major symptom among female long COVID patients, with nearly 60% experiencing this tiredness; difficulty breathing was more common among male patients.

All of this was happening months after the patient first contracted COVID-19, with patients, on average, first evaluated at the clinic 148 days after initial onset of symptoms. 

"At the time of evaluation," the study says, "the most common symptoms were fatigue (89%), shortness of breath (69%), brain fog (69%), anxiety (62%), and unrefreshing sleep (58%) "

Related [May 12, 2021]: Mayo Clinic study details 'severe negative impacts' of long COVID

The exact number of people who survive COVID, yet deal with sometimes-debilitating long COVID symptoms long into the future, is not totally clear yet. But recent studies suggest the number isn't small.

One Penn State study from October estimated about half of all COVID survivors will deal with some long-haul COVID symptoms in the six months after recovering from their initial infection.

According to the study, one in five COVID survivors had trouble moving around afterward; one in four had trouble concentrating, often called "brain fog"; and nearly 60% had a "chest imaging abnormality" afterward.

Related: COVID vaccines are more protective than natural immunity, study finds

COVID skeptics and anti-vaxxers often cite the low mortality rate among healthy, younger adults as a key reason to eschew vaccines or other public health measures. Yet the risk of suffering from long COVID symptoms many months after infection, coupled with the uncertainty of COVID's long-term impact on the body (such as breathing problems and organ damage), makes clear mortality rate is not the only factor to consider. 

The Mayo Clinic researchers said they hope insights from the study may help us better understand the causes of, and treatment for, long COVID.

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