What exactly is long COVID? It depends on who you ask, Boston doctors say.
Three local experts emphasized the need for a national study on long COVID, which six Boston-area hospitals are participating in. Long COVID has become a broadly used health term that encompasses nearly 200 symptoms ranging from fatigue to chest pains.
Three top Boston doctors explained what we know about long COVID and what is left to learn from the RECOVER study during NBC10 Boston's weekly "COVID Q&A" series.
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Brigham and Women's Hospital's Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes said the study will gather comprehensive data of long COVID and outline several goals on how to move forward.
"We need to be able to get the best description of what constitutes long COVID because there are a range of symptoms that people have, which could be related to other conditions, could be coincidental, or could be a result of COVID," Kuritzkes said.
Dr. Shira Doron, a hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, agreed: "Almost certainly, those 200 symptoms don't represent the same entity... the loss of smell and taste may be different than brain fog and different from fatigue."
Doron said it would take "a long time to figure out" what exact symptoms are related to long COVID and how to help people recover.
Another goal of the study that Kuritzkes sees as helpful is to find out the duration of these symptoms. Once doctors know the aspects of long COVID, there are more opportunity to find treatments for it, according to Kuritzkes.
"If we know what we are treating, then we know how we might treat it," Kuritzkes said.
Boston Medical Center's Dr. Sabrina Assoumou echoed Kuritzkes. Doctors believe 10-30% of people who had an initial infection went on to develop ongoing symptoms that lasted more than three months, Assoumou said.
"How long it lasts really varies," Assoumou said. "For some people it could be a few months, and for others it could be longer... we are still uncovering symptoms of long COVID."
Assoumou pointed to another study, which outlined specific risk factors that could lead to long COVID. She said that the study showed people with diabetes as well as other risk factors tend to develop symptoms of long COVID.
"It is still early and we have lots to learn," Assoumou said.
The study is looking for 900 patients in the Boston-area and 17,000 patients nationwide. Over 23 million Americans have reported having symptoms of long COVID.