Predictors of non-recovery from fatigue and cognitive deficits after COVID-19: a prospective, longitudinal, population-based study

Tim J Hartung, Thomas Bahmer, Irina Chaplinskaya-Sobol, Jürgen Deckert, Matthias Endres, Katrin Franzpötter, Johanna Geritz, Karl G Haeusler, Grit Hein, Peter U Heuschmann, Sina M Hopff, Anna Horn, Thomas Keil, Michael Krawczak, Lilian Krist, Wolfgang Lieb, Corina Maetzler, Felipe A Montellano, Caroline Morbach, Christian Neumann, Carolin Nürnberger, Anne-Kathrin Russ, Lena Schmidbauer, Sein Schmidt, Stefan Schreiber, Flo Steigerwald, Stefan Störk, Thomas Zoller, Walter Maetzler, Carsten Finke, NAPKON Study Group

Background: Despite the high prevalence and major disability associated with fatigue and cognitive deficits after SARS-CoV-2 infection, little is known about long-term trajectories of these sequelae. We aimed to assess long-term trajectories of these conditions and to identify risk factors for non-recovery.

Methods: We analyzed longitudinal data from the population-based COVIDOM/NAPKON-POP cohort in Germany. Participants with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection were assessed at least 6 months (baseline) and again at least 18 months (follow-up) after infection using the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Fatigue (FACIT-Fatigue) Scale (cutoff ≤ 30) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA, cutoff ≤ 25). Predictors of recovery from fatigue or cognitive deficits between assessments were identified through univariate and multivariable logistic regression models. The COVIDOM study is registered at the German registry for clinical studies (DRKS00023742) and at (NCT04679584).

Findings: Between 15 November 2020 and 9 May 2023, a total of 3038 participants were assessed at baseline (median 9 months after infection) and 83% responded to invitations for follow-up (median 26 months after infection). At baseline, 21% (95% confidence interval (CI) [20%, 23%]) had fatigue and 23% (95% CI [22%, 25%]) had cognitive deficits according to cutoff scores on the FACIT-Fatigue or MoCA. Participants with clinically relevant fatigue (at baseline) showed significant improvement in fatigue scores at follow-up (Hedges‘ g [95% CI] = 0.73 [0.60, 0.87]) and 46% (95% CI [41%, 50%]) had recovered from fatigue. Participants with cognitive deficits showed a significant improvement in cognitive scores (g [95% CI] = 1.12 [0.90, 1.33]) and 57% (95% CI [50%, 64%]) had recovered from cognitive deficits. Patients with fatigue exhibiting a higher depressive symptom burden and/or headache at baseline were significantly less likely to recover. Significant risk factors for cognitive non-recovery were male sex, older age and <12 years of school education. Importantly, SARS-CoV-2 reinfection had no significant impact on recovery from fatigue or cognitive deficits.

Interpretation: Fatigue and cognitive deficits are common sequelae after SARS-CoV-2 infection. These syndromes improved over time and about half of the patients recovered within two years. The identified risk factors for non-recovery from fatigue and cognitive deficits could play an important role in shaping targeted strategies for treatment and prevention.

EClinicalMedicine. 3;69:102456 (2024)


cognitive dysfunctionCOVID-19fatiguelongitudinal studiespost-acute COVID-19 syndrome
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