Severe Fatigue in Long COVID: Web-Based Quantitative Follow-up Study in Members of Online Long COVID Support Groups

M. Van Herck*, Y.M.J. Goertz, S. Houben-Wilke, F.V.C. Machado, R. Meys, J.M. Delbressine, A.W. Vaes, C. Burtin, R. Posthuma, F.M.E. Franssen, B. Hajian, H. Vijlbrief, Y. Spies, A.J.V. Hul, D.J.A. Janssen, M.A. Spruit

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Fatigue is the most commonly reported symptom in patients with persistent complaints following COVID-19 (ie, long COVID). Longitudinal studies examining the intensity of fatigue and differentiating between physical and mental fatigue are lacking.Objective: The objectives of this study were to (1) assess the severity of fatigue over time in members of online long COVID peer support groups, and (2) assess whether members of these groups experienced mental fatigue, physical fatigue, or both.Methods: A 2-wave web-based follow-up study was conducted in members of online long COVID peer support groups with a confirmed diagnosis approximately 3 and 6 months after the onset of infectious symptoms. Demographics, COVID-19 diagnosis, received health care (from medical professionals or allied health care professionals), fatigue (Checklist Individual Strength-subscale subjective fatigue [CIS-Fatigue]; 8-56 points), and physical and mental fatigue (self-constructed questions; 3-21 points) were assessed. Higher scores indicated more severe fatigue. A CIS-Fatigue score >= 36 points was used to qualify patients as having severe fatigue.Results: A total of 239 patients with polymerase chain reaction/computed tomography-confirmed COVID-19 completed the survey 10 weeks (SD 2) and 23 weeks (SD 2) after onset of infectious symptoms, respectively (T1 and T2). Of these 239 patients, 198 (82.8%) were women; 142 (59.4%) had no self-reported pre-existing comorbidities; 208 (87%) self-reported being in good health before contracting COVID-19; and 62 (25.9%) were hospitalized during acute infection. The median age was 50 years (IQR 39-56). The vast majority of patients had severe fatigue at T1 and T2 (n=204, 85.4%, and n=188, 78.7%, respectively). No significant differences were found in the prevalence of normal, mild, and severe fatigue between T1 and T2 (P=.12). The median CIS-Fatigue score was 48 points (IQR 42-53) at T1, and it decreased from T1 to T2 (median change: -2 points, IQR -7 to 3; P<.001). At T1, a median physical fatigue score of 19 points (IQR 16-20) and a median mental fatigue score of 15 points (IQR 10-17) were reported; these scores were lower at T2 for physical but not for mental fatigue (median change for physical fatigue -1 point, IQR -3 to 0, P<.001; median change for mental fatigue 0 points, IQR -3 to 3, P=.52). At the time of completing the follow-up survey, 194/239 (81.2%) and 164/239 (68.6%) of all patients had received care from at least one medical professional and one allied health care professional, respectively.Conclusions: Fatigue in members of online long COVID support groups with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis decreases from 10 to 23 weeks after onset of symptoms. Despite this, severe fatigue remains highly prevalent. Both physical and mental fatigue are present. It remains unclear whether and to what extent fatigue will resolve spontaneously in the longer term.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere30274
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sep 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • long COVID
  • post-COVID-19 syndrome
  • post-acute sequelae of COVID-19
  • fatigue
  • post-viral fatigue
  • pandemic
  • online health
  • mental health
  • online support

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