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Whilst most patients infected with COVID-19 make a full recovery, around 1 in 33 patients in the UK report ongoing symptoms post-infection, termed ‘long COVID’. Studies have demonstrated that infection with early COVID-19 variants increases postoperative mortality and pulmonary complications for around 7 weeks after acute infection. Furthermore, this increased risk persists for those with ongoing symptoms beyond 7 weeks. Patients with long COVID may therefore also be at increased postoperative risk, and despite the significant prevalence of long COVID, there are minimal guidelines on how best to assess and manage these patients perioperatively. Long COVID shares several clinical and pathophysiological similarities with conditions such as myalgic encephalitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and postural tachycardia syndrome; however, there are no current guidelines for the preoperative management of these patients to help develop something similar for long COVID patients. Developing guidelines for long COVID patients is further complicated by its heterogenous presentation and pathology. These patients can have persistent abnormalities on pulmonary function tests and echocardiography 3 months after acute infection, correlating with a reduced functional capacity. Conversely, some long COVID patients can continue to experience symptoms of dyspnoea and fatigue despite normal pulmonary function tests and echocardiography, yet demonstrating significantly reduced aerobic capacity on cardiopulmonary exercise testing even a year after initial infection. How to comprehensively risk assess these patients is therefore challenging. Existing preoperative guidelines for elective patients with recent COVID-19 generally focus on the timing of surgery and recommendations for pre-assessment if surgery is required before this time interval has elapsed. How long to delay surgery in those with ongoing symptoms and how to manage them perioperatively are less clear. We suggest that multidisciplinary decision-making is required for these patients, using a systems-based approach to guide discussion with specialists and the need for further preoperative investigations. However, without a better understanding of the postoperative risks for long COVID patients, it is difficult to obtain a multidisciplinary consensus and obtain informed patient consent. Prospective studies of long COVID patients undergoing elective surgery are urgently required to help quantify their postoperative risk and develop comprehensive perioperative guidelines for this complex patient group.
Boles, S., & Ashok, S. R. (2023). Pre-assessment and management of long COVID patients requiring elective surgery: challenges and guidance. Perioperative Medicine, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13741-023-00305-3