Long COVID: Long-term effects of coronavirus
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Patients with COVID-19 might experience a wide variety of signs and symptoms, hinging upon disease severity and their pre-existing health conditions. Most people who have COVID-19 fully recover within a few weeks. Nonetheless, some people even those who had only mild versions of the disease continue experiencing certain symptoms after their initial recovery which might vary among individuals. These people are referred to long haulers and the conditions have been described as “long COVID” or post-COVID-19 syndrome.
Get to know long COVID
Long COVID is a term used to describe the effects of COVID-19 that persist for weeks or months beyond the initial illness. Long COVID can typically develop particularly in patients who have had COVID-19 symptoms for 4-12 weeks, or longer. In fact, long COVID symptoms usually last more than four weeks from initial infection, though for some people the symptoms can persist for more than 12 weeks. Long COVID results in a broad range of manifestations, affecting different organs and systems in the body. Statistic reports point out that women are more prone to long COVID-19 than men. The condition seems more likely in COVID-19 patients who have developed lung infections with certain underlying diseases. Pneumonia as the result of lung infections can cause long-standing damage to the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs, resulting in scar tissue or fibrosis that substantially impair lung functions and lead to long-term breathing problems and other related conditions. However, the severity and duration of long COVID is broadly different, depending individual’s response and overall health status.
Common signs and symptoms of long COVID
Despite the fact that COVID-19 is seen as a respiratory disease primarily affecting the lungs, it can damage many other organs in the body, resulting in increased risks of long-term health problems. Common signs and symptoms of long COVID-19 are as follows:
- Chronic fatigue or weakness
- Feeling tired easily
- Difficulty breathing, e.g. shortness of breath
- Impaired concentration (brain fog)
- Memory problems
- Cough and chest pain or chest discomfort
- Muscle pain or joint pain
- Loss of smell or taste
- Depression and anxiety
Treatment of long COVID
Similar to COVID-19, there is no definitive treatment for long COVID. Symptomatic treatments for long COVID are determined by individual’s clinical manifestations and other underlying diseases. It remains crucial to notice any unusual signs and symptoms after initial recovery from COVID-19. In case that any abnormality exhibits, immediate medical attention must be sought, allowing effective and timely treatments. All instructions recommended by the doctors should be strictly followed, including regular health check-ups.
Complications of long COVID
- Myocarditis: an inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium)
- Brain fog: described as short-term memory loss, confusion and difficulty concentrating
- Dysautonomia: a disorder of autonomic nervous system (ANS) function that controls involuntary body functions, e.g. heartbeat, breathing and digestion
- Guillain – Barre Syndrome: an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerves, causing muscle weakness
- Fibromyalgia: a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood problems.
- Sleep problems such as insomnia
Resuming to physical activities after COVID-19
Owning to the reason that the lungs and body need to fully recover after the infections which is a time-consuming process, exhausting physical activities can potentially provoke the symptoms and impede recovering period. After recovery from COVID-19, the patients are advised to gradually resume their physical activities while refraining from strenuous exercise. For instance, instead of running, walking or slow jogging should be the initial exercise.
As COVID-19 can sometimes persist for months, besides the lungs, the virus can damage several organs in the body, such as heart and brain, potentially leading to the risk of long-term health problems. Nevertheless, the chances of having long COVID does not seem to be related to how ill the patients were when they got COVID-19 since patients who had mild symptoms at first can still have long COVID. Although the cause of long COVID remains unknown, it largely affects several organs in the body including mental health. If long COVID symptoms arise and interfere with daily life and activity, it is highly recommended to seek immediate medical attention, allowing effective treatments given in a timely manner.
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Internal Medicine Clinic