Most individuals 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 after their initial recovery.
These individuals sometimes describe themselves as “long-haulers,” and the conditions have been called “post-COVID-19 syndrome” or “long COVID-19.” These health problems also are occasionally called “post-COVID-19 conditions.” These health issues are usually considered to be effects of COVID-19 that continue for more than four weeks after people have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Older individuals and individuals with several serious medical problems are the most likely to experience remaining COVID-19 symptoms, but even young, otherwise healthy individuals can feel ill for weeks to months after infection.
Common signs and symptoms that linger over time consist of:
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
- Memory, concentration or sleep problems
- Muscle pain or headache
- Rapid or pounding heartbeat
- Loss of smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Dizziness when standing
- Worsened symptoms after physical or mental activities
Organ damage caused by COVID-19
Although COVID-19 is seen as an illness that mainly affects the lungs, it can damage many other organs, too. This organ damage may raise the risk of long-lasting health problems.
Organs that may be impacted by COVID-19 include:
Imaging tests taken months after recovery from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart, also in people that experienced only mild COVID-19 symptoms. This might increase the risk of cardiac arrest or other heart complications in the future.
The type of pneumonia commonly associated with COVID-19 can cause long-lasting damage to the tiny air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs. The resulting scar tissue can lead to long-lasting breathing problems.
Even in young people, COVID-19 can lead to strokes, seizures and Guillain-Barre syndrome– a condition that results in temporary paralysis. COVID-19 also can raise the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Some adults and children experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome after they have been infected with COVID-19. In this condition, some organs and tissues become severely inflamed.
Blood clots, blood vessel problems
COVID-19 can make blood cells more likely to clump and create clots. While large clots can trigger heart attacks and strokes, much of the heart damage caused by COVID-19 is believed to stem from small clots that block tiny blood vessels, or capillaries, in the heart.
Other parts of the body affected by blood clots include the lungs, legs, liver and kidneys. COVID-19 also can weaken blood vessels and cause them to leak, which contributes to potentially long-lasting problems with the liver and kidneys.
Problems with mood, fatigue
People who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 often need to be treated in a hospital’s ICU with mechanical aid, such as ventilators to breathe. Simply surviving this experience can make a person more likely to later on develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
Because it’s difficult to predict the long-term effects from COVID-19, researchers are looking at the long-term effects seen in similar viruses, such as the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
Many people that 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 yet does not get better with rest. The same may be true for individuals who have been infected with COVID-19.
COVID-19 outcomes still not known
Much is still unknown regarding how COVID-19 will impact people with time, but research is ongoing. Researchers suggest that health care providers carefully monitor people that have been infected with COVID-19 to see how their organs function after recovery.
A number of large medical facilities are opening specialized clinics to care for individuals who have chronic symptoms or related illnesses after they recover from COVID-19. Support groups are available, also.
It’s important to remember that the majority of people that are infected with 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. This includes wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds, getting a vaccine when available and keeping hands clean.
For further information about Dr. Stengler’s practice and his clinic in Encinitas, California, please visit our website at MarkStengler.com or give us a call at (760) 274-2377.