The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we knew it in 2020. The entire globe was put on hold to help curb the spread of the virus, and luckily, for many countries, the numbers are steadily lessening in 2021.The rollout of various vaccines that began in early 2021 has also been a great help in curbing the spread and mortality rate of the virus. In the United States alone, close to half the population is now fully vaccinated against COVID.
That’s the good news when it comes to the global pandemic. However, there still may be some bad news for those who have contracted and recovered from the initial illness. As it turns out, COVID-19 can leave a lasting impression on the body, and many people are experiencing symptoms of what is now referred to as “long COVID”.
What is long COVID?
Long COVID is a medical condition that can arise in those who have had the COVID virus but haven’t fully recovered, even after a long period of time has passed. It is also referred to as post-COVID, post-acute COVID, long-tail COVID, and long-haul COVID. According to numerous studies on the condition, as many as 30% of people who contract COVID will deal with long-term symptoms.
A typical case of COVID-19 will last anywhere from one to six weeks. Those with milder cases often recover after just one or two weeks, whereas those with more severe cases or those who end up hospitalized will deal with the infection for at least six weeks, sometimes longer.
How many people will get long COVID?
Those affected by long-term symptoms are not only those who had a severe reaction to the virus, although studies have found that they are the most at risk. According to one specific study, roughly 87% of people who were hospitalized with a COVID infection were found to experience symptoms at least two months after they contracted the virus.
Although it is rarer, people with mild cases of COVID have also experienced long-term symptoms following the initial infection. Those most affected with symptoms of long COVID are women, older adults, and those who are overweight or obese.
What are some of the long-haul symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms of a case of long-haul COVID-19 are virtually identical to those of the initial COVID-19 infection. It isn’t typically new symptoms that present in people with a long-term infection – more an infection that will not go away. The main symptoms seen in those with long-haul COVID include:
- Shortness of breath
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
Other symptoms that have been seen in long-term cases of the viral infection include:
- Brain fog
- Muscle pain
- Fever that comes and goes
- Heart palpitations and pounding
This goes to show that surviving the virus doesn’t always mean a return to full overall health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus has effects that can damage many organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain. One such condition that has been seen in patients after they contracted COVID-19 is multisystem inflammatory disorder (MLS), a condition that causes inflammation in various parts of the body. The CDC also reports that COVID has been associated with the onset of autoimmune diseases.
Can COVID-19 lead to chronic fatigue?
The long-term effects of COVID-19 are just beginning to come to light. New research suggests that recovering from the virus may induce chronic fatigue syndrome or symptoms that mimic the condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a serious illness that leads to symptoms such as severe fatigue, cognitive deficits such as memory loss and the inability to focus or concentrate, and dizziness.
One review that looked at several different studies found that the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome were found to be present in those with long-haul COVID, and since viruses can often trigger chronic fatigue syndrome, it’s entirely possible that the connection is sound. The research is just preliminary, though, and to make a conclusive determination, more investigation is needed.
COVID-19 can be deadly, severe, or mild, depending on how the body reacts to it. Since the disease is still so new, many researchers and doctors are unaware of the long-term implications that can arise from it. However, this much is true: long-haul COVID does exist, and as many as 30% of those who contracted the virus may suffer from symptoms for a lot longer than previously thought.