Key points:

  • A study shows 39% of patients had lung abnormalities 2 years post-COVID-19.
  • Additionally, 14% of patients had respiratory symptoms 24 months later, including shortness of breath.
  • Researchers advise patients with respiratory symptoms after COVID-19 to follow-up to detect and manage possible pulmonary changes.

Researchers in China have found persistent lung abnormalities in patients two years after COVID-19 in the first study featuring follow-up data on lung effects dating back 24 months.

Published in Radiology, the study examined residual lung abnormalities via chest CT scans two years post-COVID-19 pneumonia.

The research was done with a sample size of 144 patients discharged from the hospital after SARS-CoV-2 infection between Jan. 15, 2020 and March 10, 2020. The study included three CT scans and pulmonary function tests done 6 months, 12 months, and 2 years after diagnosis.

The findings showed lung abnormalities such as fibrosis, thickening, honeycombing, cystic changes, and dilation of the bronchi. Over the two years, lung abnormalities incidents gradually decreased. At 6 months post-infection, CT scans showed 54% of patients had abnormalities. But at two years, that was reduced to 39%—including 23% with fibrotic lung abnormalities and 16% with non-fibrotic lung abnormalities. The remaining cases showed no abnormalities.

“In particular, the proportion of fibrotic interstitial lung abnormalities, an important precursor to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, remained stable throughout follow-up,” the authors said. “Therefore, the fibrotic abnormalities observed in our study might represent a stable, irreversible pulmonary condition, such as lung fibrosis, after COVID-19.”

During the two-year follow-up, the most common respiratory symptom was exertional dyspnea or shortness of breath, which occurred in 14% of the original sample size. The researchers suggest that persisting residual symptoms and abnormal lung function could be related to the patient’s ongoing lung damage.



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