A new study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion has revealed that females are “significantly” more likely to suffer from Long COVID than males and will experience substantially different symptoms.
Long COVID is a syndrome in which complications persist more than four weeks after the initial infection of COVID, sometimes for many months.
In a review of studies, researchers observed females with Long COVID are presenting with a variety of symptoms including ear, nose, and throat issues; mood, neurological, skin, gastrointestinal and rheumatological disorders; as well as fatigue.
Male patients, however, were more likely to experience endocrine disorders such as diabetes and kidney disorders.
“Knowledge about fundamental sex differences underpinning the clinical manifestations, disease progression, and health outcomes of COVID is crucial for the identification and rational design of effective therapies and public health interventions that are inclusive of and sensitive to the potential differential treatment needs of both sexes,” the authors explained.
“Differences in immune system function between females and males could be an important driver of sex differences in Long COVID syndrome. Females mount more rapid and robust innate and adaptive immune responses, which can protect them from initial infection and severity. However, this same difference can render females more vulnerable to prolonged autoimmune-related diseases.”
In their review, researchers gathered a total sample size amounting to 1 393 355 unique individuals.
While the number of participants sounds large, only 35 of the 640 634 total articles in the literature provided sex disaggregated data in sufficient details about symptoms and sequalae of COVID disease to understand how females and males experience the disease differently.
The findings showed that, with the initial onset of COVID, female patients were far more likely to experience 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 suffer from renal disorders.
The authors note that this synthesis of the available literature is among the few to break down the specific health conditions that occur as a result of COVID-related illness by sex. Plenty of studies have examined sex differences in hospitalisation, ICU admission, ventilation support, and mortality. But the research on the specific conditions that are caused by the virus, and its long-term damage to the body, have been understudied when it comes to sex.
“Sex differences in outcomes have been reported during previous coronavirus outbreaks,” the authors added. “Therefore, differences in outcomes between females and males infected with SARS-CoV-2 could have been anticipated. Unfortunately, most studies did not evaluate or report granular data by sex, which limited sex-specific clinical insights that may be impacting treatment.” Ideally, sex disaggregated data should be made available even if it was not the researcher’s primary objective, so other interested researchers can use the data to explore important differences between the sexes.
Greater occupational exposure through traditionally female-dominated jobs may may complicate interpretation the COVID sequelae.