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Stress, anxiety, depression before COVID infection increases long COVID risk

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Stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness before a COVID-19 infection are being linked to an increased risk of long COVID, according to new research from Harvard scientists.

Psychological distress prior to a COVID case was associated with up to a 45% higher risk of developing long COVID, the researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found in their study.

“We were surprised by how strongly psychological distress before a COVID-19 infection was associated with an increased risk of long COVID,” said Siwen Wang, a researcher in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and leader of the study.

“Distress was more strongly associated with developing long COVID than physical health risk factors such as obesity, asthma, and hypertension,” Wang added.

About 20% of American adults who have had COVID have developed long COVID, according to the CDC. Long haulers experience COVID symptoms — such as fatigue, brain fog or respiratory, heart, neurological or digestive symptoms — for longer than four weeks after infection.

Severe COVID illness increases the risk of long COVID, although people with milder cases can also develop long COVID. Symptoms, which can be debilitating, could last months or years, and little is known about which traits are linked to developing long COVID.

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