How COVID-19 symptoms can alert doctors about severity of cases before it's too late

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Thursday, August 13, 2020
The symptoms a person gets may predict the severity of COVID-19
The symptoms a person gets early may predict the severity of COVID-19.

Two medical experts are weighing in on a new study that lists six levels of COVID-19 symptom severity and are showing how its findings could help doctors treat patients.

The research study used data from an app that tracked and analyzed participants from the United Kingdom and the U.S. It also tracked the symptoms they experienced.

Dr. Jan Patterson, an infectious disease specialist at UT Health San Antonio and a member of the Texas Medical Association, called the findings "interesting."

"What they found is that they could break them down into six different groups that had to do with severity of their outcome, both severity of the symptoms they were having and the severity of the outcomes," she explained. "They found that the last three groups that had the more severe symptoms were the ones that were more likely to require respiratory support, and those were ones where they had severe fatigue, shortness of breath, some chest pain and that was opposed to those who had much more mild symptoms with just loss of smell, for instance, or sore throat. Interestingly, each one of the groups had a complaint of headaches as a symptom."

Dr. Joseph Petrosino, chair of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, said this understanding of the severity of symptoms could help doctors identify which patients could become more of a severe case.

"This study, and studies like it, will help doctors be able to predict where your particular case of COVID is going way before you actually get there," Petrosino said. "In terms of the severe endpoint, or maybe not so severe endpoint, and because of that, it will lessen the burden on healthcare systems and reduce the numbers of unneeded hospitalizations."

There is a wide spectrum of COVID-19 symptoms. According to the CDC, symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

The list of symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In a study out of King's College London, there was a group of patients that did not experience a fever.

Below are the six levels of symptoms, listed from mild to severe:

1.) Flu symptoms without a fever: Headache, loss of smell, muscle pains, cough, sore throat, chest pain, no fever.

2.) Flu symptoms with a fever: Headache, loss of smell, cough, sore throat, hoarseness, fever, loss of appetite.

3.) Gastrointestinal issuessuch as Diarrhea: Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, diarrhea, sore throat, chest pain, no cough.

4.) Fatigue: Headache, loss of smell, cough, fever, hoarseness, chest pain, fatigue.

5.) Confusion:Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain.

6.) Abdominal and Respiratory issues:Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain, shortness of breath, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

It's important to note the last three groups were severe-level cases.

The Texas Medical Association also released a decision chart, to help guide people who are deciding whether they require a COVID-19 test. The chart is available in both English and Spanish.

"Don't wait until it's too late," Patterson said. "If you're starting to have shortness of breath, particularly severe shortness of breath, that is something that you need to be evaluated for."

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