Muscle soreness and achy joints are common symptoms among COVID-19 patients. But for some people, symptoms are more severe, long lasting and even bizarre, including rheumatoid arthritis flares, autoimmune myositis or “COVID toes.”
A new Northwestern Medicine study has, for the first time, confirmed and illustrated the causes of these symptoms through radiological imaging.
“We’ve realized that the COVID virus can trigger the body to attack itself in different ways, which may lead to rheumatological issues that require lifelong management,” said corresponding author Dr. Swati Deshmukh.
The paper was published Feb. 17 in the journal Skeletal Radiology. The study is a retrospective review of data from patients who presented to Northwestern Memorial Hospital between May 2020 and December 2020.
“Many patients with COVID-related musculoskeletal disorders recover, but for some individuals, their symptoms become serious, are deeply concerning to the patient or impact their quality of life, which leads them to seek medical attention and imaging,” said Deshmukh, an assistant professor of musculoskeletal radiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine musculoskeletal radiologist. “That imaging allows us to see if COVID-related muscle and joint pain, for example, are not just body aches similar to what we see from the flu — but something more insidious.”
Imaging (CT, MRI, ultrasound) can help explain why someone might have prolonged musculoskeletal symptoms after COVID, directing them to seek the right physician for treatment, such as a rheumatologist or dermatologist.
In some cases, radiologists may even suggest a COVID diagnosis based on musculoskeletal imaging in patients who previously didn't know they contracted the virus, Deshmukh said.