Risk factors for long COVID: analyses of 10 longitudinal studies and electronic health records in the UK

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 25, 2021


The impact of long COVID is increasingly recognised, but risk factors are poorly characterised. We analysed questionnaire data on symptom duration from 10 longitudinal study (LS) samples and electronic healthcare records (EHR) to investigate sociodemographic and health risk factors associated with long COVID, as part of the UK National Core Study for Longitudinal Health and Wellbeing.

Methods: Analysis was conducted on 6,899 adults self-reporting COVID-19 from 45,096 participants of the UK LS, and on 3,327 cases assigned a long COVID code in primary care EHR out of 1,199,812 adults diagnosed with acute COVID-19. In LS, we derived two outcomes: symptoms lasting 4+ weeks and symptoms lasting 12+ weeks. Associations of potential risk factors (age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, smoking, general and mental health, overweight/obesity, diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia, and asthma) with these two outcomes were assessed, using logistic regression, with meta-analyses of findings presented alongside equivalent results from EHR analyses.

Results: Functionally limiting long COVID for 12+ weeks affected between 1.2% (age 20), and 4.8% (age 63) of people reporting COVID-19 in LS. The proportion reporting symptoms overall for 12+ weeks ranged from 7.8 (mean age 28) to 17% (mean age 58) and for 4+ weeks 4.2% (age 20) to 33.1% (age 56). Age was associated with a linear increase in long COVID between age 20-70. Being female (LS: OR=1.49; 95%CI:1.24-1.79; EHR: OR=1.51 [1.41-1.61]), poor pre-pandemic mental health (LS: OR=1.46 [1.17-1.83]; EHR: OR=1.57 [1.47-1.68]) and poor general health (LS: OR=1.62 [1.25-2.09]; EHR: OR=1.26; [1.18-1.35]) were associated with higher risk of long COVID. Individuals with asthma also had higher risk (LS: OR=1.32 [1.07-1.62]; EHR: OR=1.56 [1.46-1.67]), as did those categorised as overweight or obese (LS: OR=1.25 [1.01-1.55]; EHR: OR=1.31 [1.21-1.42]) though associations for symptoms lasting 12+ weeks were less pronounced. Non-white ethnic minority groups had lower 4+ week symptom risk (LS: OR=0.32 [0.22-0.47]), a finding consistent in EHR. Associations were not observed for other risk factors. Few participants in the studies had been admitted to hospital (0.8-5.2%).

Conclusions: Long COVID is clearly distributed differentially according to several sociodemographic and pre-existing health factors. Establishing which of these risk factors are causal and predisposing is necessary to further inform strategies for preventing and treating long COVID.

Published in






Open Access

The copyright holder for this preprint is the author/funder, who has granted medRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. It is made available under a CC-BY 4.0 International license.



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