Covid19 May Cause Lesions, Scars in Lungs of Patients, Resulting in Chronic Lung Disease: Study
Scientists have found evidence that Covid19 could leave patients with long-term lung damage.
A study published in Radiology found some level of lung damage in the CT scans of at least 66 of 70 recovered patients, taken just before they were discharged. The damage included tissue lesions around the alveoli, the air sacs that absorb oxygen. According to one of the study’s authors, Yuhui Wang, a radiologist at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, these lesions are among the classic signs of chronic lung disease, and can result in blocking the airflow and ultimately make it difficult to breathe.
The researchers noticed that, unlike other respiratory diseases such as SARS and MERS, Covid19 affects both lungs as soon as patients are exposed to it. In their study, 75 of the 90 affected patients displayed signs of damage in both their lungs.
While some lung damage may heal or disappear over time, Wang and her colleagues are worried that the damage may have a greater impact in some patients, such as the elderly who are more susceptible to Covid19 and those with other illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, or lung problems as a result of smoking and/or pollution. In these patients, existing lung abnormalities may harden into layers of scar tissue, a condition known as pulmonary fibrosis. Pulmonary fibrosis stiffens the lungs, making it harder to take in enough oxygen; those suffering from it experience shortness of breath, which affects their stamina for physical activities.
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“All this would suggest that for a small number of people who are severely affected by the disease, breathing normally may never be the same again and getting short of breath on minimal exertion or requiring medication to help you breathe may become the norm,” wrote Dr. Amir Khan, a National Health Service doctor for Al-Jazeera.
Radiologist Karuna Das is currently investigating the long-term health impact of Covid19 at United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain. She says that the only catch is that it may be difficult later on to tell which lung injuries are a result of their dysfunctional immune response to coronavirus, and which were caused due to being on a ventilator (known as Ventilator-Associated Lung Injury or VALI).
“Based on what we have seen from SARS, MERS and H1N1 influenza, we expect that at least some COVID-19 patients will have some residual disease,” said Ali Gholamrezanezhad, a radiologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He added that recovered patients of Covid19 can have “some residual fibrosis, scars and [chances are] their lung function and their lung anatomy doesn’t go back to normal.”