More than two million people in England may have had long COVID, according to research.
The REACT-2 study show that more than one third of people who had COVID-19 reported symptoms lasting for at least 12 weeks.
These people fell into two groups – the most common symptoms for the first group were tiredness and muscle aches, while the most common for the second group were shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and chest pain.
It was noted, however, that the study was based on people reporting their own symptoms.
Because many of the symptoms are common and not unique to the virus, it might over-estimate the prevalence of long COVID.
The findings are based on data from 508,707 adults who took part in Imperial College London’s REACT-2 study between September 2020 and February this year.
The prevalence of long COVID increased with age, with the likelihood increasing by 3.5% for each decade of life.
It was also more common in women, people who are overweight or obese, smokers, those in deprived areas, and those who had been admitted to hospital.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme, said: “Our findings do paint a concerning picture of the longer-term health consequences of COVID-19, which need to be accounted for in policy and planning.
“Long COVID is still poorly understood but we hope through our research that we can contribute to better identification and management of this condition, which our data and others’ suggest may ultimately affect millions of people in the UK alone.”
Helen Ward, professor of public health, Imperial College London, added: “We don’t know how long it might last because we haven’t been here before.”
The NHS in England has opened more than 80 long COVID assessment services to help those suffering from the disease.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Long COVID can have a lasting and debilitating impact on the lives of those affected.
“Studies like this help us to rapidly build our understanding of the impact of the condition and we are using these findings and other new research to develop support and treatments.
“We are learning more about long COVID all the time and have made £50m of research funding available to support innovative projects, with clinics established across the country to help improve the treatment available.”