Meet the long-haulers: Dealing with the lingering effects of COVID

By now, we are all familiar with the common symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell and fever or chills. But did you know there can be prolonged effects of the disease that can last for weeks or even months after infection? In a recent study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that 35% of those surveyed who had a symptomatic infection did not feel “back to normal” two-three weeks after testing positive. Here’s more on what these “COVID long haulers” experience:

What are the most common lasting effects?

The CDC reports that some of the most common prolonged effects of COVID-19 include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain and chest pain. Other reported symptoms include difficulty concentrating, depression, muscle pain, headache, intermittent fever and heart palpitations. These may be uncomfortable but are not usually serious.

Are there more serious long-term effects?

Yes. More serious prolonged effects of COVID-19 have been noted but are generally less common. These longer-term effects can include chronic damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys or brain. More specifically, those with COVID-19 may experience inflammation of the heart muscle, poor lung function, continued issues with taste and smell and problems sleeping for weeks or even months after they contract the virus. 

Who is more likely to experience long-term effects of COVID?

The CDC study reports that people who are more likely to experience prolonged effects include those over the age of 50 and those with chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure and liver disease. Additionally, those who were sick enough with COVID-19 to require hospitalization were also more likely to experience prolonged effects. Keep in mind that these prolonged effects can occur in younger adults, too. One in five previously healthy adults age 18-34 also reported not feeling themselves 14-21 days after testing positive.

What else do we know about ‘long-haulers?’

My COVID Diary, an ongoing study led by Providence, asks study participants diagnosed with COVID-19 to journal their symptoms. The results of the study have not yet been published, but early analysis shows that symptoms can be very different from person to person, and some people’s symptoms can stick around for months.  “Some patients will get better, then begin to feel sick again,” said Ari Robicsek, M.D., chief medical analytics officer for Providence, and a lead researcher on the My COVID Diary project.

What does this mean for me?

“This is a new disease and there is still so much we don’t know about it,” said Dr. Robicsek. “We have seen such varied symptoms, from the common to the very strange. We don’t know yet how to predict who will get better in a couple of weeks, and who will end up with prolonged symptoms.”

Your best bet is to continue following public health guidance to avoid getting COVID-19, which includes getting vaccinated when you’re able, wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently and maintaining six feet of distance from others.

We’re making significant progress in getting people vaccinated and better days are ahead. Let’s stay safe and help put an end to this pandemic.

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