Kimmig LM; Rako ZA; Ziegler S; Richter MJ; G S AT; Roller F; Grimminger F; Vadász I; Seeger W; Herold S; Tello K; Matt U;
Respiratory research [Respir Res] 2022 Sep 21; Vol. 23 (1), pp. 263.
Date of Electronic Publication: 2022 Sep 21.
Background: Persistent symptoms after initial COVID-19 infection are common and are frequently referred to by the umbrella terms “post-COVID syndrome” and “long COVID”. The sheer number of affected patients pose an increasing challenge to healthcare systems worldwide. To date, our understanding of the pathophysiology of the post-COVID syndrome remains poor and the extent to which persistent cardiopulmonary abnormalities contribute to the symptom complex is unclear. We sought to determine the presence and impact of cardiopulmonary sequelae after COVID-19 in longitudinal assessment.
Methods: We report on 71 patients who underwent comprehensive, longitudinal testing in regular intervals for up to 12 months after their initial COVID-19 diagnosis. Testing included pulmonary function testing, cardiopulmonary exercise testing, dedicated left and right heart echocardiography, lung ultrasonography, and cardiac MRI.
Results: Our results demonstrate that subjective quality of life after COVID-19 (EQ-5D visual acuity scale, VAS, 67.4 for patients treated as outpatient, 79.2 for patients admitted to the general floor, 71.8 for patients treated in an ICU) is not related to the severity of the initial infection. Maximal exercise capacity is also reduced (VO 2 max 79% predicted, SD ± 19%); however, this is driven in large parts by patients who had initially required ICU-level of care. The degree of objective reduction in exertion did not correlate with quality of life scores. Pulmonary function testing revealed mild and persistent reduction in D LCO over the first 12 months without significant restrictive or obstructive lung disease. Left and right heart function was intact with good RV function and intact RV/PA coupling, imaging findings suggestive of myocarditis were uncommon (7% of patients).
Conclusion: A reduction in exercise capacity after COVID-19 is common, but is most prominent in patients previously treated in the ICU and more likely related to deconditioning or fatigue than to cardiopulmonary impairment. Subjective quality of life scores are independent of the severity of initial infection and do not correlate with objective measures of cardiopulmonary function. In our cohort, persistent cardiopulmonary impairment after COVID-19 was uncommon. The post-COVID syndrome is unlikely to be the result of cardiopulmonary sequalae and may reflect a post-ICU syndrome in some.