Long Covid in UAE: New study says fatigue, depression may last up to 9 months

File photo
File photo

Dubai - Chronic fatigue was among the topmost symptoms experienced by 47.5 per cent of Covid long-haulers in the UAE and Middle East, says study

By Saman Haziq

Published: Tue 18 May 2021, 6:08 PM

Almost half of Covid ‘long-haulers’ in the UAE and the region are battling chronic fatigue, while many are struggling with depression, insomnia and other after effects, a UAE study has revealed.

According to a qualitative research conducted by Arise UAE, an initiative of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, in association with RAK Hospital, chronic fatigue was among the top-most debilitating symptoms experienced by Covid “long-haulers” (patients suffering from long Covid symptoms) in the UAE and Middle East, with 47.5 per cent of them suffering from it.

“Since it’s a new disease and our understanding is still limited, what we have learnt so far is that the symptoms can continue for three to nine months and pose challenges for people experiencing it. Even though it is established that certain risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, heart conditions etc make people more likely to suffer a serious bout of the infection, there isn’t, however, a clear link between these risk factors and long-term issues faced by people. In fact, long Covid may also present in people who may have had mild symptoms during the infectious phase”, commented Dr Raza Siddiqui, executive director, RAK Hospital.

In the UAE and the Mideast, 42.5 per cent of participants said they faced trouble in controlling their existing chronic ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity and digestive ailments post-Covid, as compared to 39 per cent globally. The study also said that 37.5 per cent patients complained of insomnia, 32.5 per cent complained of depression, 27.5 per cent said they faced confusion and brain fog, while loss of taste and smell was experienced by 20 per cent of the Covid long-haulers.

“The disruption of the sleep cycle is one of the earliest warning signs of mental ill-health. In long Covid cases, they can manifest as an isolated symptom or as one of a cluster of symptoms ranging from mood fluctuations, dysphoria, crying bouts to loss of interest,” said Dr Prateeksha Shetty, clinical psychologist at RAK Hospital.

“They may also be accompanied by worries about the future, health of themselves and loved ones. These outcomes can be partly attributed to the changes in our brain due to Covid-19 infection… Affected people have certain vulnerabilities within themselves — personality characteristics, family history, or presence of chronic and multiple stressors which when combined by social isolation due to quarantine and hospitalisation, may lead to adverse mental health outcomes,” added Dr Shetty.

Moreover, Covid -19 is primarily a respiratory ailment, the inability to oxygenate sufficiently impacts the entire body, causing cardio-vascular and neurological problems, she said.

Around 35 per cent of the programme users said they continue to suffer from breathing difficulties, 22.5 per cent suffered from cardiovascular problems while 35 per cent had neurological issues. Global studies place the figure at 15 per cent for cardiac problems and 80 per cent for neurological.

“Brain fog may last for many months after contracting Covid-19, which relates to a general feeling of fuzziness or being spaced out. People have reported not feeling like themselves, experiencing confusion, short-term memory loss or an inability to concentrate. The reasons are still unknown and are being investigated, though largely can be attributed to issues of blood supply and cytokines in the brain which cause inflammation. On the other hand, some researchers have also pointed towards micro structural changes in the memory circuit of the brain as a reason for brain fog.

Dr Sweta Adatia, specialist neurologist and medical director at RAK Hospital, said that poor sleep, dietary changes, feelings of anxiety and depression may also contribute to the exacerbation of the symptom. “In reality, up to 70 per cent of patients with severe Covid-19 may have neurological sequelae of one or the other kind. The best treatment to avoid brain fog when you contract the infection is to avoid anxiety, have good sleep, eat a balanced diet, avoid alcohol, and take multivitamins and other micronutrients,” she said.

“To help long-haulers effectively recognise and manage the concerns, the Covid Rehabilitation Programme team at the RAK Hospital conducts bi-monthly webinars where all post-Covid issues, including digestive problems, chronic fatigue, neurological issues etc are adequately addressed by our panel of experts. Moreover, local patients can also book complimentary appointments and meet the respective physician/specialty personally, whereas international patients can book tele-consultations,” said Prof Adrian Kennedy, chief wellness officer, Arabian Wellness & Lifestyle Management.

The study

The research that was conducted over a period of 45 days is a qualitative, in-depth study of a small random population in the Middle East. The participants comprised 35 per cent nationals from the UAE and Middle East; 35 per cent expatriates from South East Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) and 30 per cent expatriates from the Philippines and Europe. While the average age of the participants was 39, male members were almost double than female.

The data was gathered through participants who registered for a comprehensive ‘Online Covid-19 Rehabilitation Programme’ that was launched by Arise UAE in association with RAK Hospital on March 20 this year and can be accessed by anyone from anywhere in the world.

Globally, around 30 per cent of Covid patients experience long-term, debilitating after-effects of the disease, hampering their ability to perform even simple daily tasks, with symptoms continuing for three to nine months in some cases.

More news from coronavirus