Post-COVID condition in patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases: a prospective cohort study in the Netherlands

Laura Boekel*, Sadaf Atiqi, Maureen Leeuw, Femke Hooijberg, Yaëlle R. Besten, Rosa Wartena, Maurice Steenhuis, Erik Vogelzang, Casper Webers, Annelies Boonen, Martijn Gerritsen, Willem F. Lems, Sander W. Tas, Ronald F. van Vollenhoven, Alexandre E. Voskuyl, Irene van der Horst-Bruinsma, Mike Nurmohamed, Theo Rispens, Gertjan Wolbink

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Background: Studies on long-term consequences of COVID-19, commonly referred to as post-COVID condition, in patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases are scarce and inconclusive. Furthermore, classifying patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases as having post-COVID condition is complicated because of overlapping symptoms. Therefore, we investigated the risk of post-COVID condition and time until recovery, and compared the prevalence of symptoms seen in post-COVID condition, between patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases and healthy controls, with and without a history of COVID-19. Methods: In this substudy we used data from an ongoing prospective cohort study in the Netherlands. All adult patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases from the Amsterdam Rheumatology and Immunology Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, were invited to participate in the study between April 26, 2020, and March 1, 2021. All patients were asked, but not obliged, to recruit their own control participant of the same sex, of comparable age (< 5 years), and without an inflammatory rheumatic disease. Demographic and clinical data, including data on the occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 infections, were collected via online questionnaires. On March 10, 2022, all study participants received a questionnaire on the occurrence, onset, severity, and duration of persistent symptoms during the first 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic, independent of their history of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Additionally, we prospectively monitored a subset of participants who had a PCR or antigen confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in the 2-month period surrounding the questionnaire in order to assess COVID-19 sequelae. In line with WHO guidelines, post-COVID condition was defined as persistent symptoms that lasted at least 8 weeks, started after the onset and within 3 months of a PCR or antigen-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, and could not be explained by an alternative diagnosis. Statistical analyses included descriptive statistics, logistic regression analyses, logistic-based causal mediation analyses, and Kaplan-Meier survival analyses for time until recovery from post-COVID condition. In exploratory analyses, E-values were calculated to investigate unmeasured confounding. Findings: A total of 1974 patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease (1268 [64%] women and 706 [36%] men; mean age 59 years [SD 13]) and 733 healthy controls (495 [68%] women and 238 [32%] men; mean age 59 years [12]) participated. 468 (24%) of 1974 patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease and 218 (30%) of 733 healthy controls had a recent SARS-CoV-2 omicron infection. Of those, 365 (78%) of 468 patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease and 172 (79%) of 218 healthy controls completed the prospective follow-up COVID-19 sequelae questionnaires. More patients than controls fulfilled post-COVID condition criteria: 77 (21%) of 365 versus 23 (13%) of 172 (odds ratio [OR] 1·73 [95% CI 1·04–2·87]; p=0·033). The OR was attenuated after adjusting for potential confounders (adjusted OR 1·53 [95% CI 0·90–2·59]; p=0·12). Among those without a history of COVID-19, patients with inflammatory diseases were more likely to report persistent symptoms consistent with post-COVID condition than were healthy controls (OR 2·52 [95% CI 1·92–3·32]; p<0·0001). This OR exceeded the calculated E-values of 1·74 and 1·96. Recovery time from post-COVID condition was similar for patients and controls (p=0·17). Fatigue and loss of fitness were the most frequently reported symptoms in both patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease and healthy controls with post-COVID condition. Interpretation: Post-COVID condition after SARS-CoV-2 omicron infections was higher in patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease than in healthy controls based on WHO classification guidelines. However, because more patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease than healthy controls without a history of COVID-19 reported symptoms that are commonly used to define a post-COVID condition during the first 2 years of the pandemic, it is likely that the observed difference in post-COVID condition between patients and controls might in part be explained by clinical manifestations in the context of underlying rheumatic diseases. This highlights the limitations of applying current criteria for post-COVID condition in patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease, and suggests it might be appropriate for physicians to keep a nuanced attitude when communicating the long-term consequences of COVID-19. Funding: ZonMw (the Netherlands organization for Health Research and Development) and Reade foundation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e375-e385
Number of pages11
JournalThe Lancet Rheumatology
Volume5
Issue number7
Early online date1 Jul 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

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