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Erectile dysfunction (ED) has been added to the official list of Long Covid symptoms, according to the results of a study by researchers at the University of Birmingham. Academics studied the health records of 2.4 million people in the UK, and identified 61 symptoms of Long Covid, including sexual dysfunction and hair loss.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and UK Research and Innovation, and the findings have been published in Nature Medicine. The other most common symptoms were nausea, fever, swollen limbs, low mood, hallucinations, amnesia, and incontinence.

Anuradhaa Subramanian, Research Fellow at the Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham and lead author of the paper said: “Our data analyses of risk factors are of particular interest because it helps us to consider what could potentially be causing or contributing to Long Covid.”

She added: “We already know that certain modifiable traits such as smoking and obesity put people at increased risk of various diseases and conditions, including Long Covid. However, others such as biological sex and ethnicity also appear to be important.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there are around 2 million people in the UK who are suffering from Long Covid. This includes 1.4 million people who first contracted coronavirus 12 weeks or more previously, and 826,000 who had caught it at least one year earlier. A further 376,000 had Covid at least two years ago.

The study found that certain population groups were more likely to suffer from Long Covid, including people living in deprived areas, women, those working in public services, and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Dr Shamil Haroon, Associate Clinical Professor in Public Health said: “This research validates what patients have been telling clinicians and policymakers throughout the pandemic, that the symptoms of Long Covid are extremely broad and cannot be fully accounted for by other factors such as lifestyle risk factors or chronic health conditions.”

He added: “The symptoms we identified should help clinicians and clinical guideline developers to improve the assessment of patients with long-term effects from Covid-19, and to subsequently consider how this symptom burden can be best managed.”

It is not clear from the study whether the cases of ED were caused by the psychological or physical effects of the virus. What is known is that ED can be caused by either. In younger men, issues such as stress at work, anxiety over financial or relationship problems, or low self-esteem are more likely to be the cause of ED.

Poor lifestyle choices, which could have been exacerbated by the pandemic, are also known to increase the risk of ED. Drinking and smoking too much, taking too little exercise, and eating a high-sugar, high-fat diet can cause problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which are all associated with ED.

Anyone struggling with sexual dysfunction is advised to make lifestyle changes and book a check-up with their GP. In some cases, the patient may be prescribed medication designed to treat ED such as Viagra.

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