23andMe Has A Study About Long COVID

A red and white flower by Quinten Braem on Unsplash

In what is among the largest studies of long COVID to date, researchers at 23andMe confirm that it disproportionately impacts women, and being diagnosed with depression or anxiety is associated with more than a two-fold increase in risk for the condition. The study also found that about half of those with persistent symptoms are experiencing them for six months or longer.

Even after a year, more than 10 percent of those who reported being diagnosed with long COVID continue to have symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, and shortness of breath. It’s important to note long COVID refers to individuals who have health effects that linger for weeks, months, or longer after COVID-19 infection.

In regression analysis controlling for age, sex, and ethnicity, 23andMe researchers found that those who reported that they had depression or anxiety prior to COVID-19 infection had a two-fold increase in the risk of being diagnosed with long COVID, and having a cardiometabolic disease was associated with a 90 percent higher risk of being diagnosed. Cardiometabolic diseases include conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol. 

23andMe data also indicate that more than half of the participants saw no difference after vaccination. Of those who did see a difference, approximately twice as many people reported improvement rather than worsening of some or all symptoms.

Preliminary data from the unpublished study indicates that women are at least twice a likely to be diagnosed with long COVID compared to men even when controlling for age, ethnicity, and related health conditions. This contrasts with the overall breakdown of those infected with COVID-19, where men are much more likely to be infected than women. Men are slightly more likely to die from the virus as well, according to a recent Harvard study.

23andMe’s data also indicated that when compared with men, a larger percentage of women with long COVID appear to have symptoms that persist a bit longer, which is also consistent with other smaller studies In addition, long COVID disturbs menstrual cycles; according to 23andMe data, about a quarter are reporting that they are still dealing with disruptions after a year.

Beyond the disproportionate impact on women, those who have had the most severe cases of COVID are also at a much higher risk of developing long COVID. In the 23andMe study, researchers had a more than ten-fold risk of being diagnosed with long COVID compared to those who were not hospitalized when controlling for age, sex, and ethnicity.

Scientists still don’t understand what causes long COVID, nor how to best treat it. An effort to recruit patients to study the condition by the National Institutes of Health got off to a slow start, with the agency only recruiting about 1,300 people by late march, far short of their 40,000-patient goal.

The 23andME study included data from more than 100,000 individuals who reported contracting COVID-19. Of those included this study, more than 26,000 reported that they had experienced long COVID, and over 7,000 said they’d been diagnosed with it. This unpublished study is part of a series of studies being conducted by 23andMe scientists since the beginning of the pandemic.

Among areas of study is research on the role blood type plays in severity and susceptibility to the virus, and insights into the genetics that influence different reactions to COVID-19 vaccines. Earlier this year, 23andMe published a study that identified genetic variants associated with the loss of smell or taste due to COVID-19.

Related Articles on FamilyTree.com:

Ancestry’s COVID-19 Study Finds Gene Associated With Men

23andMe Is Doing A Genetic Study On COVID-19

COVID-19 Makes Family Reunions Risky

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