Fighting COVID-19’s Long-term Effects
Most people who have COVID-19 recover completely within a few weeks. But some people — even those who had mild versions of the disease — continue to experience symptoms weeks after their initial recovery.
These people are sometimes described as "long haulers" and the conditions have been called post-COVID syndrome or "long COVID-19." Long haul health issues are generally considered to be effects of the illness that persist for more than four weeks following a COVID diagnosis.
Older people and people with many serious medical conditions are more likely to experience lingering COVID symptoms, but even young, otherwise healthy people can feel unwell for weeks or sometimes months after infection. Common signs and symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Joint and/or chest pain
- Memory, concentration or sleep problems
- Muscle pain or headache
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
- Loss of smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
Organ damage caused by COVID
Although COVID is seen as a disease that primarily affects the lungs, in some cases it can also damage many other organs, including the heart, kidneys and the brain. Organ damage may lead to health complications that linger after COVID illness. In some people, lasting health effects may include long-term breathing problems, heart complications, chronic kidney impairment, stroke and Guillain-Barre syndrome — a condition that causes temporary paralysis.
Problems with mood and fatigue
People who have severe symptoms of COVID are often treated in a hospital's intensive care unit, with mechanical assistance such as ventilators to breathe. Simply surviving this experience can make a person more likely to later develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety.
Many people who have recovered from SARS have gone on to develop chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that worsens with physical or mental activity, but doesn't improve with rest. The same may be true for people who have had COVID.
Many long-term COVID-19 effects still unknown
Much is still unknown about how COVID-19 will affect people over time, but research is ongoing. Researchers recommend that doctors closely monitor people who have had COVID-19 to see how their organs are functioning after recovery.
It's important to remember that most people who have COVID-19 recover quickly. But the potentially long-lasting problems from COVID-19 make it even more important to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by following precautions. Precautions include wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds, getting a vaccine when available and keeping hands clean.