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Introduction: Long COVID (LC) is a global public health crisis affecting more than 70 million people. There is emerging evidence of different pathophysiological mechanisms driving the wide array of symptoms in LC. Understanding the relationships between mechanisms and symptoms helps in guiding clinical management and identifying potential treatment targets. Methods: This was a mixed-methods systematic review with two stages: Stage one (Review 1) included only existing systematic reviews (meta-review) and Stage two (Review 2) was a review of all primary studies. The search strategy involved Medline, Embase, Emcare, and CINAHL databases to identify studies that described symptoms and pathophysiological mechanisms with statistical analysis and/or discussion of plausible causal relationships between mechanisms and symptoms. Only studies that included a control arm for comparison were included. Studies were assessed for quality using the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute quality assessment tools. Results: 19 systematic reviews were included in Review 1 and 46 primary studies in Review 2. Overall, the quality of reporting across the studies included in this second review was moderate to poor. The pathophysiological mechanisms with strong evidence were immune system dysregulation, cerebral hypoperfusion, and impaired gas transfer in the lungs. Other mechanisms with moderate to weak evidence were endothelial damage and hypercoagulation, mast cell activation, and auto-immunity to vascular receptors. Conclusions: LC is a complex condition affecting multiple organs with diverse clinical presentations (or traits) underpinned by multiple pathophysiological mechanisms. A ‘treatable trait’ approach may help identify certain groups and target specific interventions. Future research must include understanding the response to intervention based on these mechanism-based traits.

Original publication




Journal article


International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health



Publication Date





473 - 473