More than 17% of women have had long Covid at some point during the pandemic, compared with 11% of men, according to data from U.S. Census Bureau and National Center for Health Statistics published last month.
Women were also more likely to suffer from more severe long Covid, the survey found. Some 2.4% of all women had symptoms that significantly limited their normal activities, compared with 1.3% of men, according to the data.
Nearly two-thirds of people who had persistent COVID-19 symptoms during the first 2 years of the pandemic were women, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Long Covid presents a wide array symptoms that vary from mild to debilitating and affect multiple organ systems. Some of the most commonly reported symptoms include poor memory or brain fog, fatigue, shortness of breath and loss of smell, according to this study.
According to the epidemiologists Dr Stephen Phillips and Harvard’s Prof Michelle Williams, “Our medical system has a long history of minimizing women’s symptoms and dismissing or misdiagnosing their conditions as psychological”.
American Medicine has long treated women as second-class citizens. The field’s historical male dominance has had lasting impacts: bias in clinical trials has led to poorer treatment and outcomes for women, and delayed diagnosis in women for diseases that have only been studied in men. Gaps in knowledge about conditions that affect women, such as endometriosis, have given rise to the dismissal of symptoms and narratives about hysteria.
The long-term impacts of Covid-19 have familiar parallels. Long Covid has overlapping symptoms with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), a complex and often debilitating illness that can follow viral infections. The CDC estimates women are diagnosed with ME/CFS at three to four times the rate of men. Distrust or suspicion from doctors when they report symptoms is commonplace.
“Long Covid is new, but in a way it’s not,” says Dr Ziyad Al-Aly, a long Covid researcher and chief of research and development at the Veterans Affairs Saint Louis Health Care System in the US. “Unfortunately, many are still reporting minimization of their long Covid symptoms – and it’s partially attributable to the fact that female patients are routinely dismissed.”