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Do we know who is more likely to get long COVID?

Clinical Evidence Manager at Bupa
01 April 2021

This information was written in line with the best available evidence at the time of publication. Keep up-to-date with the latest guidelines on COVID-19 at gov.uk.

A year on from the start of the pandemic we are still learning about the effects of COVID-19. You might have heard in the news that some people are more likely to experience the effects of COVID-19 for longer – this is known as long COVID. Here I explore the evidence we have so far about who might be most at risk of developing this condition.

What is long COVID?

Most people who catch COVID-19 will recover within a few weeks. But, there are some people who have symptoms for much longer. ‘Post-COVID-19 syndrome’ is when symptoms last longer than 12 weeks. You have probably heard of it being called long COVID.

There are many possible symptoms of long COVID, but the most common ones seem to be:

  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • breathlessness
  • headaches
  • cognitive impairment (difficulty thinking or remembering)

How many people have long COVID?

We don’t know for sure how many people have long COVID. This is because there is no test for it, and many people don’t know for sure if they had COVID-19 in the first place. At the moment, it seems that around one in 10 people who test positive will still have symptoms after 12 weeks.

Are younger women more at risk of developing long COVID?

You might have seen some news outlets reporting that younger women might be more at risk of developing long COVID. This is because two new studies have suggested this might be the case.

These studies looked at the symptoms experienced by people who had caught COVID-19 a few months after they first became unwell. The people they studied had all been admitted to hospital. This means they had been very unwell with the virus when they first caught it.

Both studies found that many of these people were still experiencing symptoms at least three months later. The most common symptoms were fatigue and breathlessness. In both studies, women under 50 seemed more likely to experience long COVID than men.

But, it’s important to note that the papers about these studies haven’t been reviewed yet. Usually, scientific journals only publish papers that have been looked at and discussed by other experts. If these experts have any concerns they can ask the authors to show them more data, or to clarify what they mean.

Because this process can take a long time, authors sometimes make their paper available to read before the experts have reviewed it. This means it can contain:

  • information that is not accepted by experts
  • data errors
  • spelling or grammatical mistakes

Until it is reviewed by other medical experts, we don’t know for sure how reliable it is.

There has also been another study which has been reviewed and published; its results were different. It found that long COVID was more likely in older people and people with a higher BMI, as well as in women.

Does this mean I won’t develop long COVID?

It’s important to know that anybody can be affected by long COVID. This includes men, and people of all ages. If you think that you might be experiencing the condition you should speak to your doctor. They will be able to offer you support and advice about how to manage your symptoms.

Can I protect myself from developing long COVID?

Currently we don’t have any evidence that you can protect yourself from developing long COVID after you catch COVID-19. The best way to keep yourself safe is to reduce your risk of being infected in the first place. This means:


Remember to get a test and stay at home if you develop symptoms.

Lucy Hoppe
Clinical Evidence Manager at Bupa

    • COVID-19 rapid guideline: managing the long-term effects of COVID-19. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). www.nice.org.uk, published 18 December 2020
    • £18.5 million to tackle long COVID through research. Department of Health and Social Care. www.gov.uk, published 18 February 2021
    • Updated estimates of the prevalence of long COVID symptoms. Office for National Statistics. www.ons.gov.uk, published 21 January 2021
    • Sigfrid, Louise, et al. "Long Covid in adults discharged from UK hospitals after Covid-19: A prospective, multicentre cohort study using the ISARIC WHO Clinical Characterisation Protocol." (2021). doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.18.21253888
    • Evans, Rachael Andrea, et al. "Physical, cognitive and mental health impacts of COVID-19 following hospitalisation–a multi-centre prospective cohort study.” (2021). doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.22.21254057
    • What is an unrefereed preprint? medRxiv. www.medrxiv.org accessed 31 March 2021
    • Sudre, Carole H., et al. "Attributes and predictors of long COVID." Nature Medicine (2021): 1-6. doi.org/10.1038/s41591-021-01292-y
    • How to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). UK Government. www.gov.uk, updated 31 March 2021
    • (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do. UK Government. www.gov.uk, updated 30 March 2021

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