Intended for healthcare professionals


Covid-19: UK adds sore throat, headache, fatigue, and six other symptoms to official list

BMJ 2022; 377 doi: (Published 04 April 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;377:o892
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The UK’s official list of covid-19 symptoms1 has been updated to include sore throat, fatigue, headache, and six other symptoms which are now commonly associated with the virus.

Shortness of breath, an aching body, a blocked or runny nose, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, and feeling sick or being sick have also been added to the list on the NHS website. “The symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu,” the website says.

The UK’s official symptom list for covid-19 previously included just three indications—fever, persistent cough, and a loss or change in taste or smell. Yet the World Health Organization, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and European nations such as Spain and France have all listed a far wider range of symptoms for some time.

Tim Spector, the lead scientist of the Zoe covid-19 symptom tracker app, who told The BMJ last December2 that the UK was an international outlier in limiting its list to three symptoms, said, “Everyone at Zoe is happy to see that the NHS has finally updated the official symptom list after two years of lobbying and contributor input. The addition of more symptoms is a step in the right direction and it could help reduce infections.

“However, while this is good news, I’d like to see the order of the symptoms changed, as the NHS list puts far too much emphasis on symptoms like fever and anosmia, which we know are much less common since the omicron variant emerged. According to the Zoe covid study, the top five symptoms being reported by contributors with a positive covid test are runny nose (83%), fatigue (71%), sore throat (69%), headache (69%), and sneezing (68%).”

Spector added, “It seems this decision has been made in light of the changes to testing. We were always told that the barrier to expanding the list was that adding more symptoms could overwhelm testing capacity, so it makes sense that since free testing has now stopped, the list has been updated.”

As far back as last June,3 GPs were urging the government to update the official list of symptoms amid concerns that their patients were confused about what to look for and when to take a covid test. But with the government withdrawing free universal testing for most of the population on 1 April, some experts have argued that the change to the symptom list has come too late.

Kit Yates, senior lecturer in the Department for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Bath, said on Twitter, “We’ve been asking for this for over a year and now it’s come too late to be really helpful.”4

A spokesperson for the UK Health Security Agency, which has overseen the changes, said, “The main symptoms remain a fever, a new or continuous cough, and/or a loss of taste and smell. Since the start of the pandemic we have acknowledged covid-19 has a much longer list of symptoms.

“Symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite, sore throat, headache, nasal congestion, and runny nose have been included in government guidance since 2020.”


  • We amended this article on 5 April 2022 to include a comment from the UK Health Security Agency.

This article is made freely available for personal use in accordance with BMJ's website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.