Women are more likely to have long-term COVID, underscoring a critical need for gender-disaggregated research

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A new study published today in the journal Current medical research and opinion reveals that women are “considerably” more likely to suffer from long-term COVID than men and will experience substantially different symptoms.

Lung COVID is a syndrome in which complications persist for more than four weeks after initial infection of COVID-19, sometimes for many months.

Researchers from the Johnson & Johnson Office of the Chief Medical Officer Health of Women Team, who analyzed data from approximately 1.3 million patientsnoted that females with long COVID present with a variety of symptoms, including ear, nose, and throat problems; mood, neurological, skin, gastrointestinal and rheumatological disorders; as well as fatigue.

However, male patients were more likely to have endocrine disorders such as diabetes and kidney disease.

“Knowledge about fundamental sex differences underlying the clinical manifestations, disease progression and health outcomes of COVID-19 is critical to the identification and rational design of effective therapies and public health interventions that are inclusive and sensitive to the potential differential treatment needs of both sexes.” , the authors explain.

“Differences in immune system function between women and men may be a major driver of gender differences in long-term COVID syndrome. Women develop faster and more robust innate and adaptive immune responses, which can protect them from initial infection and severity. Women may be more vulnerable to infection.” long-term autoimmune diseases.”

As part of the review, researchers limited their search for academic papers to those published between December 2019-August 2020 for COVID-19 and to January 2020-June 2021 for long-term COVID syndrome. The total sample size of the reviewed articles was 1,393,355 unique individuals.

Although the number of participants may sound large, only 35 of a total of 640,634 articles in the literature provided gender-disaggregated data with enough detail about symptoms and consequences of COVID-19 disease to understand how women and men experience the disease differently.

Looking at the early onset of COVID-19, findings show that female patients were much more likely to have mood disorders such as depression, ear, nose and throat symptoms, musculoskeletal pain and respiratory symptoms. Male patients, on the other hand, were more likely to have kidney disease, which affects the kidneys.

The authors note that this synthesis of the available literature is one of the few that breaks down the specific health problems that occur as a result of COVID-related illness by gender. Numerous studies have examined sex differences in hospitalization, ICU admission, ventilator support, and mortality. But research into the specific conditions caused by the virus, and its long-term damage to the body, has been under-researched when it comes to sex.

“Sex differences in outcomes have been reported during previous coronavirus outbreaks,” the authors add. “Therefore, differences in outcomes between women and men infected with SARS-CoV-2 could have been expected. Unfortunately, most studies did not evaluate or report detailed data by gender, limiting gender-specific clinical insights that may affect the therapy.” Ideally, sex-disaggregated data should be made available, even if this was not the primary goal of the researcher, so that other interested researchers can use the data to investigate important differences between the sexes.

The article also mentions complicating factors worth further investigation. Women may be at greater risk of exposure to the virus in certain occupations, such as nursing and teaching. Furthermore, “there may be differences in access to care based on gender that can influence the natural course of the disease, leading to more complications and consequences.”

The latter serves as a rallying cry: availability of gender-disaggregated data and deliberate analysis is imperative if we are to ensure that disparate outcomes in disease course are addressed. A study is not complete until the data is made available to people who want to answer the question: do sex and gender matter?

Women with long-term COVID-19 syndrome have more symptoms

More information:
Gender differences in the consequences of COVID-19 infection and in long-term COVID syndrome: an overview, Current medical research and opinion (2022). DOI: 10.1080/03007995.2022.2081454

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Taylor & Francis

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