We’ve already learned long COVID can last a long time for people after their coronavirus infection, with symptoms persisting weeks or even months later.
Now, for those dealing with the medical phenomenon, a new study published Jan. 11 in the peer-reviewed journal The BMJ offers insight into when symptoms could finally come to an end — identifying a cutoff point for people.
Researchers found that following a mild COVID-19 infection, lingering health effects lasted months for the majority of people dealing with them, but most symptoms subsided within a year, according to the work conducted in Israel.
The findings came after analyzing the health records of nearly 2 million Israeli patients, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, who took a COVID-19 test between March 2020 and October 2021.
Long COVID symptoms were found to be “more prominent” in the first six months after infection. Then, they began to subside afterward, the researchers wrote.
The findings suggest “that mild disease does not lead to serious or chronic long term morbidity in the vast majority of patients,” the researchers wrote.
Here’s what else there is to know about the study:
More on the research
When the research in Israel was conducted, the original SARS-CoV-2 strain as well as the alpha and delta variants were spreading in Israel, according to the study. Despite the different variants, the study’s results remained consistent when it came to long COVID.
Out of almost 2 million patient health records that were examined, researchers compared nearly 300,000 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 — after excluding those who were hospitalized — and nearly 300,000 patients who tested negative.
The study included more than 118,000 patients under the age of 18 who previously had COVID-19, and the average age of those who tested positive was 25, according to the research.
Among those who tested positive, several long COVID outcomes were reported and were split into two categories — symptoms reported in the early phase, during one to six months following a positive test, and the late phase, during six months to a year following a positive test, according to the study.
In the researchers’ analysis of the data, factors including the age and sex of the patients, as well as COVID-19 variants, were taken into account.
The study found that during both the early and late phases, a mild COVID-19 infection resulted in higher risks of developing loss of smell, a change in taste, trouble breathing, brain fog, fatigue and palpitations.
There was also a “significant but lower” risk for experiencing tonsillitis and dizziness during both phases, researchers wrote.
Risks for developing other symptoms such as hair loss, chest pain, cough, sore muscles and respiratory issues were heightened only during the first six months following a positive COVID-19 test, according to the study.
Notably, vaccinated patients infected with COVID-19 had a lower risk of experiencing breathing troubles but had a “similar risk for other outcomes compared with unvaccinated infected patients,” authors wrote.
The study also showed that there were only slight differences between men and women when developing long COVID, and children were less affected by long COVID symptoms in the first six months after infection.
For most long COVID patients, study author Maytal Bivas-Benita told NBC News “this will get better.”
Study authors wrote that one strength of their research is it included many younger patients, who they said are “less represented” in prior studies, who had a mild COVID-19 infection.
They said one limitation of the work was the long COVID symptoms identified in the study were ones reported by patients, not ones that were diagnosed.
What are the odds of developing long COVID?
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research published in May, about 1 in 5 adults may develop at least one long COVID symptom after an infection.
In late August, the Brookings Institution reported that about 16 million people in the U.S. ages 18 to 65 are estimated to be living with long COVID.
The term long COVID was made popular by patients who continued to experience lasting health effects from the virus, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.