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19 March 2024

People with joint hypermobility at increased risk of long COVID

Academics from King’s College London and Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) have found that people with joint hypermobility are 30% more likely to suffer from long COVID.

woman showing thumb up, hand with hyper flexible thumbs

Published in BMJ Public Health, the researchers found that the greater risk of developing long COVID was also likely related to higher levels of fatigue in this group of people with joint hypermobility. This study was designed by researchers at King’s and BSMS.

“The most recent estimates in March 2023 told us there’s around three quarters of a million people in the UK still feeling the effects of the coronavirus, more than two years since having COVID-19. So, it’s really important to understand who is more likely to experience long-term symptoms without fully recovering, so we can give them support. Identifying joint hypermobility as a risk for not recovering is important, as it points us towards the possible biological reasons why some people are affected more than others.”

Co-author, Dr Nathan-Cheetham, Senior Postdoctoral Data Scientist at King’s

These findings come from participants of the COVID Symptom Study Biobank developed by researchers at King’s. Over 3000 people who had experienced COVID-19 contributed to this study by answering a survey in 2022 about their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey included questions about their history of COVID-19 illness and a validated questionnaire that screened for the likely presence of hypermobility.

Lead author Dr Jessica Eccles, Reader in Brain-Body Medicine at BSMS said “Our study shows, for the first time, that the presence of generalised joint hypermobility (GJH) is a risk factor for long COVID, and that those with hypermobility are likely to have even greater levels of fatigue.”

“Around three percent of the UK population do not fully recover from COVID, so long COVID is a significant problem and is likely to remain so. It is a significant public health issue. These findings highlight the need for further research on predisposing factors, including hypermobility, in order to develop more personalised treatments and support for people with long COVID.”

Dr Jessica Eccles, Reader in Brain-Body Medicine at Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Around 20% of the UK population fulfil the criteria for GJH, and there is a growing interest in how hypermobility may predispose someone to a range of complex multi-system conditions and disorders, including fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, allergies, anxiety, depression and back pain – all of which themselves are associated with long COVID.

Dr Eccles added: “Many doctors may view GJH as a simple variation of normality. However, the presence of joint laxity provides an important clue to differences in connective tissue composition that can affect multiple bodily systems. Long COVID is not yet well understood, but it’s increasingly acknowledged that dysregulated autonomic, inflammatory, and metabolic processes are involved in the condition.”

In this story

Nathan Cheetham

Senior Postdoctoral Data Scientist