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Lots of people who have contracted corona also complain about their health after their recovery from the disease. For example, they suffer from shortness of breath and a lack of fitness. The complaints can persist for weeks and even months after the actual recovery.

Whether these issues will resolve themselves over time is as yet unclear. However, a research team from the Austrian Medical University of Innsbruck has now been able to show for the first time that the lungs and heart are able to recover over time.

In this study, the scientists examined 86 patients aged between 50 and 70.years of age. They were treated at the Medical University of Innsbruck, the Zams Hospital, and the German Münster Rehabilitation Center. Nearly three-quarters of the cases studied involved men. Approximately the same number of test subjects were affected by obesity. Just under half were former smokers. In addition, the majority of study participants had previously had cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or hypercholesterolemia.

“Excessively lengthy recovery process”

They used specific examination methods such as lung function tests, echocardiography, and computer tomography (CT) to examine the test subjects’ lungs. This is how the scientists checked their respiratory capacity.

“55% of hospitalized corona patients showed chronic physical impairments even six weeks after discharge from the hospital,” lung specialist Judith Löffler-Ragg notes. These complaints mainly concerned shortness of breath during physical exertion. 15% of those afflicted complained of a persistent cough. The good news, however, is that although the patients examined had an above-average lengthy recovery phase, the severity of their symptoms improved considerably over the course of the study.

The Innsbrucker research team, from left to right: Sabina Sahanic, Thomas Sonnweber, Clinic director Günter Weiss, Judith Löffler-Ragg and Ivan Tancevski (Photo: D. Bullock)

According to the CT scans, 88% of patients showed “persistent mild to moderate structural changes in the lungs. Even six weeks after discharge from the clinic. Over time, however, these changes have tended to subside in most patients, the researchers note. Consequently, there is currently no evidence of progressive lung damage, such as increased scarring. However, it is also not yet known “…whether the changes in the lungs and the associated loss of lung function will completely disappear…” Further research is still needed for this.

A structured, long-term rehabilitation period is decisive

The doctors consider the close relationship between the research center and the rehabilitation center in Münster where patients are cared for in intensive care to be a determining factor for the progress of their recovery. This also highlights the added value of a structured, long-term rehabilitation period. “We have seen in our long-term study that patients recover only gradually. Initial experiences show that the lung function disorder diagnosed upon discharge from the clinic can be significantly improved through lengthy and specific rehabilitation therapy,” explains Sabina Sahanic from the research team. ” As a result, many of the changes in lung function are likely to be reversible processes.”

The results of the study were presented this Monday as “breaking news” at the conference of the European Respiratory Society (ERS).