Fatigue and cognitive impairment after COVID-19: A prospective multicentre study

Tim J. Hartung, Christian Neumann, Thomas Bahmer, Irina Chaplinskaya-Sobol, Matthias Endres, Johanna Geritz, Karl Georg Haeusler, Peter U. Heuschmann, Hanna Hildesheim, Andreas Hinz, Sina Hopff, Anna Horn, Michael Krawczak, Lilian Krist, Jennifer Kudelka, Wolfgang Lieb, Corina Maetzler, Anja Mehnert-Theuerkauf, Felipe A. Montellano, Caroline Morbach, Sein Schmidt, Stefan Schreiber, Flo Steigerwald, Stefan Störk, Walter Maetzler and Carsten Finke

Background: Reliable estimates of frequency, severity and associated factors of both fatigue and cognitive impairment after COVID-19 are needed. Also, it is not clear whether the two are distinct sequelae of COVID-19 or part of the same syndrome.

Methods: In this prospective multicentre study, frequency of post-COVID fatigue and cognitive impairment were assessed in n = 969 patients (535 [55%] female) ≥6 months after SARS-CoV-2 infection with the FACIT-Fatigue scale (cut-off ≤30) and Montreal Cognitive Assessment (≤25 mild, ≤17 moderate impairment) between November 15, 2020 and September 29, 2021 at University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Kiel and University Hospital Würzburg in Germany. 969 matched non-COVID controls were drawn from a pre-pandemic, randomised, Germany-wide population survey which also included the FACIT-Fatigue scale. Associated sociodemographic, comorbid, clinical, psychosocial factors and laboratory markers were identified with univariate and multivariable linear regression models.

Findings: On average 9 months after infection, 19% of patients had clinically relevant fatigue, compared to 8% of matched non-COVID controls (p < 0.001). Factors associated with fatigue were female gender, younger age, history of depression and the number of acute COVID symptoms. Among acute COVID symptoms, altered consciousness, dizziness and myalgia were most strongly associated with long-term fatigue. Moreover, 26% of patients had mild and 1% had moderate cognitive impairment. Factors associated with cognitive impairment were older age, male gender, shorter education and a history of neuropsychiatric disease. There was no significant correlation between fatigue and cognitive impairment and only 5% of patients suffered from both conditions.

Interpretation: Fatigue and cognitive impairment are two common, but distinct sequelae of COVID-19 with potentially separate pathophysiological pathways.

eClinicalMedicine. 53:101651 (2022)


cognitive dysfunctionCOVID-19fatiguepost-acute COVID-19 syndromeSARS-CoV-2
Share the article

Participating Institutions