Millions of people are suffering from long COVID, a post-COVID illness. As the coronavirus pandemic enters its third year, things look very different from a few years ago. We now have a vaccine, bivalent booster shots, COVID treatments, and a better understanding of the deadly virus, according to HuffPost.
However, a previously unknown aspect has come to play: long COVID, a debilitating result of a COVID-19 infection, is affecting millions of people worldwide.
There isn’t a specific definition for this condition. Instead, long COVID is more of an “umbrella term that describes [the] variety of physical and mental health effects that persist after the original COVID infection,” said Dr. Aaron Friedberg, clinical co-lead of the Post COVID Recovery Program at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
Long COVID is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as symptoms that last four weeks after infection; the World Health Organization says it lasts 12 weeks. The definition “sort of depends on who you talk to,” according to Friedberg, making diagnosis, recognition, and treatment complicated. Furthermore, the fact that long COVID symptoms vary greatly from person to person makes it difficult.
According to Sara Gorman, CEO of Critica, an organization that fights science misinformation, the symptoms can appear in a variety of bodily systems. “So, there could be respiratory symptoms, there could be cardiovascular symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, cognitive and neurological symptoms as well as mental health symptoms,” she said.
According to some definitions, 200 symptoms can be characterized as part of long COVID. “I think that’s why it can be so tough for primary care folks who are taking care of patients because it can look so different in different people,” Friedberg added. Researchers and doctors are working to figure out what it is and how to treat those who have it. The first step in any treatment plan, however, is admitting that you have a long COVID infection.
Here are the most common symptoms.
According to Gorman, the most common symptom is fatigue, and it’s not the kind of exhaustion that can be relieved by taking a nap or going to bed earlier. “It’s sort of a crushing feeling of not being able to move very well, not being able to have any energy to do anything,” Gorman said. “And there can be this post-exertion crash that happens if you push yourself a little bit too much.”
This can happen when you push yourself to exercise or when you do something seemingly minor, like spending a morning running errands. Too much exertion one day can lead to days of being unable to do much, according to Gorman, for people that suffer from this type of fatigue.
Fast Heart Rate And Chest Discomfort
Friedberg claims that many people with long COVID experience a high heart rate as well as chest pain or discomfort. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a fast heart rate can feel like an irregular heartbeat or cause other physical symptoms such as dizziness.
Friedberg added that headaches are another common symptom of long COVID. According to studies, this is not a one-time occurrence, but rather a persistent headache that occurs on a regular basis. This can vary in severity from person to person.
Some people dislike the term “brain fog,” according to Gorman, but this cognitive symptom is another sign of long COVID. According to her, this means having difficulty paying attention, being forgetful, and not being as cognitively sharp as usual. “And a lot of people have trouble working because they feel that their cognition is really impaired,” Gorman added.
Shortness Of Breath
Another commonly reported symptom, according to Friedberg, is shortness of breath. Someone suffering from this condition may have difficulty walking up stairs and may be unable to resume their pre-COVID exercise routine.
“There’s also a small segment [of patients] that have stomach issues, too,” said Dr. William Lago, the medical director of Cleveland Clinic’s Recover Clinic for long COVID patients. “We’ve seen a lot that has persistent diarrhea that can sometimes go along with a COVID infection.” Another symptom associated with long COVID is stomach pain, according to the CDC.
Mental Health Symptoms
Long COVID is associated with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Multiple studies published in the last three years found that people infected with COVID-19 were more likely to have mental health problems. According to a study published in The British Medical Journal, people with COVID were 35% more likely to develop anxiety and 40% more likely to develop depression. Furthermore, a 2020 study published in The Lancet medical journal found that 20% of people with COVID infection received a first-time psychiatric illness diagnosis within three months of their illness.
Some people may have only one symptom; others may have several.
“The majority of people that we see who come into our clinic have multiple symptoms, and they tend to be fairly widespread,” Lago said.
Long COVID can be different in different populations.
“It actually is interesting, there was a study that came out recently that said there are different forms of long COVID that are more common in different groups of people,” according to Gorman.