Fitbits, smart watches and other portable devices help researchers track the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the human body.
Using freely voluntary data from hundreds of fitness and health sensors, researchers have now found that it takes about two or three months for the body to recover from COVID-19.
The identified physical symptoms varied from individual to individual, but they usually included a faster resting heart rate, excess sleep, or decreased physical activity.
A small subset of those who got the virus, about 14 percent, had it even harder than that. These ‘long pullers’ showed, as they have become known, unusually fast resting pulses that are stuck for more than four months.
Their symptoms at the beginning of the disease were also more severe; this is interesting as previous reports have found that many long-distance carriers experienced only mild initial symptoms from COVID-1
“Our data suggest that the severity of early symptoms and a greater initial resting heart rate response to COVID-19 may be a predictor of how long it will take for individuals to recover physiologically from this virus,” said epidemiologist Jennifer Radin of Scripps. Research Translational Institute.
“In the future, with larger sample sizes and more comprehensive participant-reported outcomes, it will be possible to better understand why some people recover faster or differently than others.”
The researchers believe that this is the first time that portable devices have been used to track the course of a contagious disease in several months, and the results suggest that COVID-19 is particularly difficult to recover from – at least for them, showing symptoms.
Compared to fitness data from 641 sick individuals who did not have COVID-19, the 243 volunteers who had COVID-19 showed changes in their heart rate, sleep, and physical activity that lasted much longer.
The differences were most evident for cardiovascular health, which makes sense, as recent evidence has shown that COVID-19 can have a lasting effect on the heart and lungs, even in adolescents and after mild cases.
On average, the current study found that a higher resting heart rate is common after COVID-19 and does not return to baseline for about two and a half months.
Step count, on the other hand, usually returns to normal after about a month; while the amount of sleep usually returns around day 24.
“Portable sensor data from smartwatches and activity trackers provide a wealth of data on individual baselines, from resting heart rate and sleep patterns to normal daily activity levels,” says Radin.
“These data give us new and better ways to measure how the body changes during infection and how it recovers, which is especially important for a new disease like COVID-19, which we are still learning so much about.”
The mysteries surrounding long COVID-19 and similar diseases such as myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME / CFS) are innumerable, and in many ways this is due to the fact that patients have historically not been taken seriously.
It is often difficult to describe, let alone quantify, certain symptoms, such as fatigue, brain fog, headaches, loss of smell or taste, muscle aches or shortness of breath. And yet it does not make the symptoms less real.
Portable sensors not only complement a growing stream of patient reports, they also offer an evidence-based route for further research.
These smart devices now sit on the body of more than one in five Americans, which translates into a lot of data whose individuals agree to share it with scientists.
The study was published in JAMA Network Open.