25% of children and teens who contract COVID-19 and have symptoms develop lingering problems, according to a new preprint study.
The long-term issues were wide-ranging and were like long COVID symptoms seen in adults, such as fatigue, sleep disorders, breathing issues, heart issues, and gastrointestinal problems.
“Children and adolescents have also physical and mental health consequences derived from COVID-19,” Sonia Villapol, PhD, the senior study author and a neuroscientist at Houston Methodist Research Institute, told Reuters.
“Identifying the main signs and symptoms of pediatric long COVID can help diagnose, develop better treatments, create multidisciplinary teams for optimal clinical management, and find risk factors for prevention,” she said.
Villapol and researchers from the U.S., Mexico, and Sweden pooled data from 21 previous studies done in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America to estimate the how many patients under 18 got long COVID and identify the most common symptoms.
Among more than 80,000 children and adolescents with COVID-19, 25% got symptoms that lasted for at least 4 to 12 weeks or new persistent symptoms that appeared within 12 weeks. Long COVID appeared in more than 29% of the hospitalized patients. Children who had severe COVID-19, obesity, allergy-related diseases, or other long-term health conditions were more likely to get long COVID.
The most frequent problems were mood symptoms like anxiety and depression, followed by fatigue and sleep disorders. Other common symptoms were neuropsychiatric (headaches, changes in thinking skills, dizziness, balance problems), cardiorespiratory (a hard time breathing, congestion, exercise intolerance, chest pain and tightness, coughing, irregular heart rhythm), cognitive (reduced concentration, a hard time learning, confusion, memory loss), skin-related (too much sweating, itchiness, hair loss) and gastrointestinal (loss of appetite, belly pain, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea).
When compared to kids without COVID-19, children who got the coronavirus were 10 times as likely to have a persistent loss of taste or smell, twice as likely to have long-lasting breathing problems, and twice as likely to have ongoing fever issues.
The study authors noted that more research is needed because analyses of pooled data from many studies with different methods can pose limits. But the research can help with identifying long COVID and treating children with these lingering symptoms.
“Long COVID represents a significant public health concern, and there are no guidelines to address its diagnosis and management,” the study authors concluded, highlighting the “importance of continuously monitoring the impact of long COVID in children and adolescents.”
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