So far, the focus has been on saving as many lives as possible in this rampaging pandemic. The sustained and gallant efforts have paid off and currently, more than 70.5 million people had recovered from the disease. However, the long-term health consequences of COVID-19 remain largely unclear. Moreover, a new issue has emerged in recent months for many patients recovering from the disease – lingering symptoms that refuse to go away.
The scientific community is calling the condition “Long COVID” and is imploring people to be more aware of its debilitating effects. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO), too, has taken note of long COVID. So, what is long COVID exactly and why do you need to know about it urgently?
What is 'Long COVID'?
For most people, COVID -19 starts as a brief and mild disease. However, many others have struggled with a variety of lingering symptoms of the disease that persist even after the patient has tested negative for the virus. There have been several reports in recent months of recovered patients suffering from shortness of breath and fatigue after taking just a short walk. Many others have complained of joint pain and chest pain.
Worryingly, these symptoms often last for months despite the patients having recovered. These long-term effects have been termed as 'Long COVID'. The term was first used by Elisa Perego (a research associate at the University College London) in May last year to explain her own experience with the disease. In the months to follow, as more and more people began experiencing similar conditions, the term has struck a chord.
That being said, long COVID is still not well understood and scientists continue to research it. Early analysis of the data submitted through the COVID Symptom Study app reveals that 13% of people who experience COVID-19 symptoms have them for more than 28 days.
As of now, people with more severe disease initially appear to be at increased risk of long COVID. Being a senior also puts one at the risk for it along with having a higher body mass index. According to Prof Chris Brightling, from the University of Leicester and the chief investigator in the PHOSP- COVID project which is tracking people's recovery, those who have pneumonia may also suffer from lingering effects of COVID because of damage to the lungs.
Health experts have a few ideas on what might be the trigger for long COVID, but no definitive answers. The coronavirus can directly affect a variety of cells in the body and trigger an overactive immune response, which in turn, causes damage throughout the body. One theory is that sometimes the immune system doesn’t go back to normal, even after recovery, and this causes ill-health. The infection may also alter the way in which the organs function, which can lead to long-term problems.
What are the common symptoms of long COVID?
There are a few common symptoms of long COVID as reported by patients that we should be mindful of.
Extreme fatigue or muscle weakness has topped the list of long-lasting COVID symptoms as of now. It persists for months and affects the person’s physical and mental health. However, we still need more information to successfully differentiate fatigue caused by long COVID from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, to have a better understanding of the condition.
Shortness of breath:
Several patients have complained of shortness of breath even months after having recovered from the COVID-19. “I’m three months recovering from COVID Double Pneumonia and the shortness of breath is the most disconcerting aspect of my recovery!” writes a patient in the NIH Director’s Blog.
Myalgia, also known as muscle pain, has been another common symptom of long COVID. According to a study published in the medical journal Clinical Rheumatology, the muscle pain in COVID patients may at times manifest itself as severe backache. "Myalgia and fatigue in patients with COVID-19 may be longer in duration than other viral infections and may be unresponsive to conventional painkillers," the authors of that study wrote.
A large number of COVID-19 patients have been found to be suffering from post-viral or inflammatory myocarditis. This can not just result in sustained arrhythmias but can also cause heart failure in the future.
Some of the other commonly reported symptoms of long COVID include chest pain, cough, anxiety, sleep difficulties, loss of smell and taste, runny nose, headaches, and depression. A few studies have also shown that some patients may even face cognitive decline and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
What should I do if I have lingering COVID symptoms?
So, what do we do if we have any lingering COVID symptoms months after testing negative?
* Experts say that in such a scenario you should consult a doctor immediately. Especially if your symptoms are getting worse.
* Make notes of the duration, severity, and frequency of your symptoms. This may help doctors investigate your condition more thoroughly and it can come in handy in case your doctors feel that your case requires specialist monitoring.
* If you suffer from lingering COVID symptoms doctors recommend that you don't try and jump back into your regular life just because you’ve tested negative. It’s important that you slow down a little and let your body (and mind) recover properly.
* You have to remember that COVID-19 is still a relatively new disease, even though it feels like it’s been around for years. Conditions like long COVID still need deeper understanding and research before we can have proper solutions for it. You must therefore be patient or you risk worsening your symptoms.
See Also: COVID Survivors May Have Protective Immunity for 8 Months
Post-viral fatigue or a post-viral cough is common. At some point in our life, we’ve all had some infection or the other that has taken us ages to recover from. Unfortunately, with COVID, the symptoms seem to be more wide-ranging and the number of affected people looks to be greater, too.
Until health experts figure out what exactly is causing long COVID it’s difficult to work out the treatments. Thus, we have to be patient and wait for the causes and treatments of long COVID to be clarified. Until then, keep following all the necessary safety measures.
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