What is long COVID? 12 defining symptoms revealed

Scientists may be one step closer to developing treatment options for long COVID after identifying 12 of the debilitating illness’ key symptoms.

“This study is an important step toward defining long COVID beyond any one individual symptom,” said study author Dr. Leora Horwitz, co-principal investigator for the RECOVER Clinical Science Core, at NYU Langone Health.

“This approach — which may evolve over time — will serve as a foundation for scientific discovery and treatment design,” she added.

Long COVID is the series of conditions that persist after a person contracts the coronavirus.

The study published Thursday in JAMA found long COVID was more common and severe in study participants who were infected before the 2021 Omicron variant, unvaccinated or reinfected.

Woman in doctor room about to do COVID test.
Long COVID is the series of conditions that persist after a person contracts the coronavirus.
dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images
Doctor with patient.
Researchers say identifying the 12 key symptoms could help pave the way for long COVID treatments.
dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health as part of the “RECOVER” initiative to understand why some people develop long-term symptoms following a COVID-19 infection.

Researchers examined data from 9,764 adults. In the group, 8,646 had COVID-19 and 1,118 did not.

More than 100 million Americans have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. An estimated 6% of those infected continue to experience long COVID.

“Americans living with long COVID want to understand what is happening with their bodies,” said Dr. Rachel L. Levine, assistant secretary for health.

The symptoms are: 

  • post-exertional malaise (debilitating fatigue that gets worse after physical or mental activity)
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • dizziness
  • gastrointestinal symptoms
  • heart palpitations
  • issues with sexual desire or capacity
  • loss of smell or taste
  • thirst
  • chronic cough
  • chest pain
  • abnormal movements