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Joint hypermobility syndrome linked to increased risk of long Covid

People with generalised joint hypermobility, also known as being ‘double jointed’, may be at heightened risk of developing long Covid, according to UK researchers.

They found people with hypermobile joints were 30% more likely not to have fully recovered from Covid-19 than others, and to be experiencing the persistent fatigue associated with long Covid.

Other than older age, the researchers said the likelihood of developing long Covid seemed to be greater when associated with certain underlying health conditions.

As examples, they highlighted fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, allergies, anxiety, depression and back pain.

They noted that all of these risk factors have all been independently associated with joint hypermobility, whereby some or all of a person’s joints have an unusually large range of movement.

As a result, they sought to find out if double jointedness might be a risk factor for long Covid in its own right.

For their study, they identified 3,064 participants in the COVID Symptom Study Biobank, all of whom had had Covid-19 infection at least once.

The participants were surveyed in August 2022 on whether they had hypermobile joints, if had fully recovered from their last bout of Covid-19 infection and if they were experiencing persistent fatigue.

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The findings from the study, by researchers at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, have been published in the journal BMJ Public Health.

They found that, of those participants that had had Covid-19 infection, information on their recovery was available for 2,854, of whom 82% were women and 97.5% white. Their average age was 57.

In addition, 32% of participants said they had not fully recovered from their last bout of Covid-19 infection, and of this group, just under 30% had generalised joint hypermobility.

Among the 1,940 participants who said they had fully recovered, just under 23% had hypermobile joints, noted the researchers.

After accounting for a range of potentially influential factors, they concluded that joint hypermobility was strongly associated with a failure to recover fully from Covid-19 infection.

They stated that people who were double jointed were around 30% more likely to say they had not fully recovered from Covid-19 infection than those with normal joints.

In addition, joint hypermobility significantly predicted high levels of fatigue, which emerged as an instrumental factor in the failure to make a full recovery, said the study authors.

They highlighted that, as has been suggested previously by other researchers, Long Covid was unlikely to be a single entity.

Instead, it was likely to be a medley of intersecting immunological, inflammatory, autonomic nervous system, respiratory and cardiovascular processes that led to distinct symptom profiles, they said.

They added: “These results suggest further exploration of whether [joint hypermobility] is linked to a particular phenotype or subtype of those not recovering fully from Covid-19, including long Covid.”

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