Women are far more likely to suffer ‘long-haul’ consequences of COVID-19, doctors say

Dr. Christina Migliore. (Newark Beth Israel)

As the pandemic stretches on, there are more reports coming out regarding the long-haul symptoms associated with COVID-19. That is, stories of how the impact of the virus can last well into recovery.

Here’s something you may not be hearing: The lingering symptoms — shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and cognitive fog, primarily — affect women at a much higher rate than men.

Dr. Christina Migliore said up to 80% of the patient populations suffering from these long-haul symptoms are women. Pregnant women also appear to struggle with it more often, as an Obstetrics & Gynecology study found that a quarter of pregnant or recently pregnant COVID-positive women reported symptoms two months after their infection, she said.

That was one of the takeaways Tuesdays from the virtual webinar, “COVID-19 Vaccine: What Women Need to Know,” presented by Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, which is part of RWJBarnabas Health.

And it’s one of the reasons why Migliore, a pulmonologist, and two of her colleagues were so eager to discuss women’s health.

“Women have to know that they’re not alone and this is not something in their head, because women are often dismissed, ‘Oh, you’re overreacting,’ or, ‘You probably just have a lot going on,’” Migliore said. “This is a real disease that can linger even after a mild case of COVID-19.”

Migliore, who serves as medical director of quality and director of pulmonary hypertension and advanced lung disease at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, said there’s no medical literature that tells health care professionals why patients have it or when it might go away.

Right now, the only way to protect against this still-mysterious problem is for women to be vaccinated, the physicians said.

Dr. Johanny Garcia. (Newark Beth Israel)

Dr. Johanny Garcia, director of the division of General Internal Medicine at Newark Beth, said women — even those who previously tested positive for COVID-19 — should receive the vaccine as soon as possible.

She added that the chance to be fully vaccinated is a remarkable opportunity — not just for one’s own health, but for the family and friends that it once more might be safe to visit.

“It can help reestablish connections with people,” Garcia said. “And I think that, as women, we want that.”

Not getting vaccinated can have horrific consequences, Migliore said.

Everyone has heard the stories of COVID-19 wreaking havoc on a family, Migliore said. But, from the front lines, she’s seen too much of it. One that’s hard to forget was a family of four all diagnosed with the respiratory disease, affecting the mother and father enough that they both had to be put on ventilator machines.

Only the father made it off one.

“In talking to the family, that mother was the pillar and the center of the family — as most women are in families, whether they have children or not,” Migliore said. “That just spoke to me as a female and a physician, that they lost the one main person who kept them all together.”