- Health experts are discovering that there’s a multitude of symptoms that patients can have after their initial diagnosis of COVID-19.
- Symptoms of long COVID can include fatigue, chest pain, cough, and depression, among other impairments.
- Researchers are still learning who is at risk for long COVID.
While many of the symptoms of COVID-19 are resolved within a few weeks, some people experience symptoms that have lasted months and sometimes years later – a condition that is called long COVID.
Health experts are discovering that there’s a multitude of symptoms that patients can have after their initial diagnosis of COVID-19.
The National Center for Health Statistics in partnership with the Census Bureau reports that approximately 7.5% of adults have long COVID symptoms which have lasted three or more months after first contracting the virus.
What we know now
As COVID-19 has impacted so many people around the world, large data sets are being analyzed to understand the implications of the virus both in the short- and long-term settings.
For most individuals, many of the upper respiratory symptoms tend to dissipate after the initial infection in the first two weeks, but there are some that will continue to have additional symptoms for weeks and sometimes years afterward. These are new symptoms, both physical and psychological, that were not present prior to having COVID-19.
Although there are not a specific set of symptoms associated with long COVID, some of the more common physical manifestations include increased fatigue, brain fog, persistent cough, more frequent chest pain, and difficulty sleeping.
Some patients have also experienced functional disability as well creating challenges in completing their activities of daily living.
In a study of 219 patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Italy, about 53% had an element of functional impairment 4 months after having COVID-19.
Dr. Sara Martin, Assistant Professor and Medical Director of the Adult Post-Acute COVID Clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, says “based on a recent review of symptoms coded related to post-acute sequelae of SARS COV-2 infection, or PASC, most common presenting symptoms to the Vanderbilt Adult Post-Acute COVID clinic are shortness of breath, fatigue, GERD, cognitive deficiencies, and anxiety.
Psychological and cognitive toll
Health experts are also starting to see psychological and cognitive complaints associated with COVID-19 as well. Many of these symptoms can include cognitive fog, dementia, epilepsy, and seizures.
A study published in the Journal of Medical Virology shows that 24% of patients discharge from the hospital with COVID-19 reported PTSD, 18% had worsening memory conditions, and 16% had complications with concentration as well.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of anxiety and depression across the globe has increased by 25% since the beginning of the pandemic.
In a recently published study in The Lancet Psychiatry, scientists looked at 1.25 million patients two years after having COVID-19 and compared them to a similar number of patients who had other upper respiratory infections to better understand COVID-19.
According to the study, people with COVID-19 were also at increased risk of anxiety and depression after having the disease, but the risk for these conditions returned to baseline within two months.
However, researchers discovered that the risk of things like dementia, seizures, and brain fog were still present 2 years after an initial COVID-19 diagnosis
There currently is no clear reason why people have symptoms for the length of time they have them.
“It truly varies and we see a broad spectrum of recovery time. Some people recover within months and others have persistent symptoms a year or more post-infection with acute COVID,” Martin tells Healthline.
Who is at risk
Anyone can experience long COVID-19 symptoms but the CDC reports that long-term conditions have been reported more in those who had severe COVID-19 illness as well as those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
“There is a well-recognized association of more severe disease is more likely to trigger long COVID symptoms,” said Dr. Nathaniel Erdmann, Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases.
“Overall, there does seem to be a trend that long COVID burden is less for those that are getting infected with current strains either due to the virus or pre-existing immunity but, even with this improvement, we continue to see new cases of long COVID,” Erdmann tells Healthline.
He explains, “the simplest explanation for this is that long COVID is not a singular entity” and the body has multiple processes involved after being infected with a virus which can trigger persistent post-viral syndromes.
Although it is difficult to predict who is going to get long COVID and why, both Erdmann and Martin say that the best way to prevent getting long COVID is to get vaccinated
What is being done to help people with long COVID
The US Department of Health and Human Services has recognized that this condition can be disabling and now offers resources and protections to individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Many hospital systems have started to develop post-COVID-19 clinics to help treat people with post-immediate complications. These facilities are designed to help those who have had symptoms that are new after the initial COVID-19 infection including the physical and psychological manifestations after being sick.
Dr. Rajiv Bahl, is an emergency medicine physician, board member of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians, and health writer. You can find him at RajivBahlMD.com.
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