Most people diagnosed with long COVID were never hospitalized for COVID-19, a study found.
From a sample of 78,000 patients with long COVID, 75.8% were not admitted to the hospital, according to a study by FAIR Health that analyzed private healthcare claim records. Of those with long COVID, 81.6% of women and 67.5% of men were not hospitalized.
Researchers have been unable to track patterns in long COVID because there was not an International Classification of Diseases code for the condition. But on Oct. 1, 2021, ICD-10 diagnostic code (U09.9) was introduced for "post COVID-19 condition, unspecified."
The study used that code to analyze patient claims from Oct. 1, 2021 through Jan. 31, 2022. However, it only looked at private insurance claims, meaning claims from public insurers like Medicaid and Medicare, which typically cover more vulnerable populations, were not included.
The study found women were more likely than men to develop long COVID. While 53.8% of those with COVID-19 were women, women accounted for 59.8% of patients with long COVID.
FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd said it was "chilling" how little could be understood about the disease before there was an official code associated with it.
"We felt it was important to start providing some findings from that population," Gelburd said.
Among the symptoms of patients diagnosed with long COVID, the most common were difficulty breathing, a cough, and malaise and fatigue, the study found. Long COVID covers a range of symptoms that can affect someone four weeks or more after they contracted COVID-19.
Gelburd said it will be important to analyze trends in long COVID claims over a longer period of time to broaden the understanding of the disease.
"This will be an ongoing endeavor to continue to try to peel back the curtain on what has been an impossible public health event in the country," Gelburd said.
A March report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated 7.7 million to 23 million Americans might have developed long COVID.