• Ann Falco

Long Term Effects Of COVID-19


Most people with COVID-19 recover within weeks of illness; however, some people have been experiencing post-COVID health conditions. Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience more than four weeks after first being infected with the coronavirus. Surprisingly, even people who did not initially have symptoms when they were infected can have post-COVID conditions.


The CDC says these conditions can consist of different types and combinations of health issues that can last for different lengths of time in each person. Mild or moderate COVID-19 typically lasts about two weeks for most people. However, others experience lingering health problems even when they have recovered from the acute phase of the illness. In these patients, there is no longer live coronavirus detected within the body. When tested, the individual would test negative for coronavirus, but they might be severely debilitated (weakened) nonetheless.


Scientists have many names for this post-COVID syndrome. The National Institutes of Health refer to long-term COVID-19 symptoms as PASC, which stands for Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2. The more common terms are post-COVID syndrome, long COVID or long-term COVID. Additionally, individuals living with post-COVID syndrome are being referred to as “long haulers.”


Long COVID, as defined by the CDC, is a range of symptoms that can last several weeks or months after first being infected with the coronavirus or can also appear weeks after infection. Long COVID can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19, even if the illness was mild, or there were no symptoms. Individuals with long COVID report experiencing different combinations of the following symptoms:

  • Tiredness or fatigue

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)

  • Headache

  • Loss of smell or taste

  • Dizziness on standing

  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations or tachycardia)

  • Chest pain

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Cough

  • Joint or muscle pain

  • Depression or anxiety

  • Fever

  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities


While it is clear that people with certain risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity are more likely to have a serious case of COVID-19, there is not a clear link between these risk factors and the long-term complications. As mentioned by the CDC, long COVID can also occur in people who have mild symptoms. Some researchers speculate that long-term health issues persist in certain individuals due to organ damage, a persistent inflammatory or autoimmune response, or another underlying medical reason.


The research is still on-going to understand this condition and the associated risk factors; however, doctors have reported a consistent array of symptoms following infection with COVID-19, some of which would be expected after other critical illnesses. COVID-19 can attack the body in a variety of ways, causing damage to the lungs, heart, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and other major organs. Mental health problems can arise from grief and loss, unresolved pain or fatigue, or from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU). In the more serious cases, many patients require continuing care and readmission to the hospital.


According to the CDC, the most common lasting symptoms in COVID-19 patients are fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, and chest pain. These symptoms are closely associated with scarring in the lungs due to COVID-19 infection. Other commonly reported issues include cognitive problems, difficulty concentrating, depression, muscle pain, headache, rapid heartbeat and intermittent (occasional) fever. In addition, COVID-19 infection can leave some people with heart problems, including inflammation of the heart muscle. A study showed that 60% of people who recovered from COVID-19 had signs of ongoing heart inflammation, which could lead to the symptoms of shortness of breath, palpitations, and rapid heartbeat.


When it comes to COVID-19, how long is “long-term”? The answer is still unknown. However, lung recovery after COVID-19 is possible but it takes time and is a gradual process. Doctors estimate it can take several months for a person’s lung function to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. Breathing exercises, medications, physical therapy, and respiratory therapy can help with the recovery process. The understanding of the virus and post-COVID-condition is evolving every day. Researchers will learn more about how and why the coronavirus affects different people in such a variety of ways, and why some individuals experience no symptoms at all while others have life-threatening organ damage or lasting disability. New insights will provide avenues for therapies and hope for patients living with long-term COVID-19 effects.


 

Speaking Plainly:

  • COVID-19 can attack the body in a variety of ways, causing damage to the lungs, heart, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and other major organs. Mental health problems can arise from grief and loss, unresolved pain or fatigue, or from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU).

  • People who did not initially have symptoms when they were infected with coronavirus can have post-COVID conditions.

  • Long-term health issues persist in certain individuals due to organ damage, a persistent inflammatory or autoimmune response, or another underlying medical reason.

  • The most common lasting symptoms in COVID-19 patients are fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, and chest pain. Other commonly reported issues include cognitive problems, difficulty concentrating, depression, muscle pain, headache, rapid heartbeat and intermittent (occasional) fever.

  • The understanding of the virus and post-COVID-condition is evolving every day. New insights will provide avenues for therapies and hope for patients living with long-term COVID-19 effects.