UAE clinic finds obesity strongly linked to long Covid

Almost two thirds of RAK Hospital's Covid-19 long haulers overweight

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A long Covid clinic in Ras Al Khaimah specialising in the treatment of people with lingering viral symptoms revealed 62 per cent of its patients were overweight.

The symptoms and health conditions of 3,277 patients between March and December of last year were studied.

The data from RAK Hospital’s health and lifestyle study adds to evidence that overweight patients and those with health issues are more likely to suffer complications related to long Covid.

Medical researchers also found 26 per cent of those seeking hospital treatment were inactive and led a sedentary lifestyle, while 68 per cent had at least one additional chronic ailment.

Obese people with long covid symptoms experience longer recovery periods and find it difficult to manage their chronic conditions
Dr Raza Siddiqui of RAK Hospital

The clinic's programme for those recovering from Covid-19 includes advice on weight management and how to reverse obesity.

“Obesity is one of the major risk factors that leads to severe complications in Covid-19,” said Prof Adrian Kennedy, the Chief Wellness Officer at RAK Hospital.

“There is probably no single medical condition which leads to more complications and is associated with greater morbidity and mortality than obesity.

“Time and again it has come to the fore that people with excess weight are at a greater risk of severe illness of Covid-19 and its complications.”

The facility’s Covid rehabilitation programme was launched in March 2021 in association with ARISE UAE, the Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies, a network of private sector entities led by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

It has been a lifeline for some, who have struggled with the after-effects of a Covid-19 infection.

Obesity has been linked with a host of other chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, asthma and mental well-being.

More than 200 symptoms have been associated with long Covid, making it difficult to medically diagnose as a specific condition.

Typical signs include breathlessness, confusion and fatigue, but medics have also consistently reported chest pain, anxiety, depression, muscle pains, fever and a persistent loss of smell and taste.

The symptoms can last for up to nine months.

Although experts do not yet fully understand what causes long Covid, or why it occurs in some people and not others, it is understood to be related to the body’s natural immune response.

In some, a Covid infection causes the immune system to fight off the virus and attack the body's own tissues simultaneously.

Another theory is that fragments of the virus lie dormant, then reignite during the recovery period, as happens with some other viruses, like herpes.

Dr Raza Siddiqui, executive director of RAK Hospital, said their experience with patients found being overweight dramatically increased the risk of hospital admission during an infection.

“Obesity is linked to an impaired immune function and may triple the risk of hospitalisation due to the infection,” he said.

“Obese people with long Covid symptoms experience longer recovery periods and find it difficult to manage their chronic conditions.

“The good news is that proper guidance and appropriate techniques can help reduce the issues and make a person’s transition to normal life much swifter.”

Updated: August 12, 2021, 3:00 AM