Long-Term Effects of COVID-19
Some people who have been infected with COVID-19 could experience long-term effects.
Post-COVID symptoms, also known as long-COVID, post-COVID syndrome or long-haul COVID, are symptoms that people experience more than four weeks after getting the virus. These symptoms can cause a variety of health problems that can last weeks, months and even years.
To help provide some insight, Dr. Laura Arline, BayCare’s chief quality officer, explains what long-COVID is, symptoms and ways to manage it.
Who is at Risk?
Most people with COVID-19 recover between a few days to a few weeks after infection. However, research suggests that about 20 percent of people show at least one long-COVID symptom between four weeks and one year after getting infected with COVID-19.
Dr. Arline says anyone who has been infected with COVID-19, regardless of how mild or severe their infection, can experience a variety of post-COVID conditions and their symptoms may differ. Sometimes, post-COVID conditions could potentially result in disability.
While health scientists are still investigating, initial data shows people most at risk include those who have had severe COVID-19, those with underlying conditions, the unvaccinated, and people who experience inflammation in internal organs during or after COVID.
People with long-COVID most commonly report fatigue, fever, or respiratory symptoms like difficulty breathing and cough. These symptoms often get worse after physical or mental effort. They can experience other symptoms related to their heart, nerves, digestive system, joints, rashes, and menstrual cycle changes in women.
Dr. Arline says respiratory and heart issues that we’ve seen in patients include shortness of breath, cough, chest pain and heart palpitations. While neurological issues can include brain fog, headache, sleep problems, dizziness, depression, anxiety and change in smell or taste.
As a result of long-COVID, people may develop new health conditions such as diabetes and heart or neurological problems compared to those who have not had COVID-19.
Dealing with the long-term effects of COVID can be difficult. Dr. Arline suggests talking to your health care providers about your symptoms. While there are no specific tests for long-COVID, testing can be performed to look into other causes for your symptoms or to diagnose conditions that long-COVID may have triggered.
“Make sure you explain to your physician in detail all of your symptoms including when they started, how often they occur and how they affect your activities, and what medications you’ve been taking,” says Dr. Arline. “This will help you and your doctor come up with a plan that is right for you.”
Dr. Arline also recommends getting vaccinated. Vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are safe and effective against COVID-19. Data shows that people who are vaccinated are less likely to experience long-COVID conditions versus those who are unvaccinated.
Many clinical trials are in progress to develop an effective treatment for long-COVID. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal and academic institutions are working to learn more long-term health effects associated with COVID-19.
For resources on COVID-19 including testing and vaccines, visit BayCare.org/Coronavirus.