Most people that have COVID-19 recover completely within a couple of weeks. But some people-- even those that had mild versions of the illness-- 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 sometimes called "post-COVID-19 conditions." These health problems are generally considered to be effects of COVID-19 that continue for more than four weeks after individuals have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Older individuals and people with many major medical conditions are the most likely to experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms, but also young, otherwise healthy people can feel ill for weeks to months after infection.
Common signs and symptoms that linger over time consist of:
Organ damage caused by COVID-19
Although COVID-19 is seen as a disease that mainly affects the lungs, it can damage several other organs, as well. This organ damage might increase the risk of long-term health problems.
Organs that might be impacted by COVID-19 include:
Imaging tests taken months after recovery from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart, even in individuals who experienced only mild COVID-19 symptoms. This may increase the risk of cardiac arrest or other heart complications in the future.
The type of pneumonia commonly associated with COVID-19 can result in long-standing damage to the small air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs. The resulting scar tissue can cause long-term breathing problems.
Even in young people, COVID-19 can lead to strokes, seizures and Guillain-Barre syndrome-- a condition that causes temporary paralysis. COVID-19 also can increase the risk of getting 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 lead to heart attacks and strokes, much of the heart damage caused by COVID-19 is believed to stem from small clots that block small 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 leads to potentially long-lasting problems with the liver and kidneys.
Issues with mood, fatigue
Individuals who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 often need to be treated in a hospital's ICU with mechanical support, such as ventilators to breathe. Merely surviving this experience can make a person more likely to later on develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
Because it's hard to predict long-term effects from COVID-19, researchers are examining the long-term effects seen in related infections, such as the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
A lot of people that have recovered from SARS have gone on to develop chronic fatigue syndrome, a complicated disorder characterized by severe fatigue that worsens with physical or mental activity yet doesn't improve with rest. The same may be true for people who have been infected with COVID-19.
COVID-19 outcomes still not known
Much is still not known regarding how COVID-19 will affect people with time, but research is ongoing. Researchers suggest that health care providers closely monitor people that have been infected with COVID-19 to see how their organs function after recovery.
A number of large medical centers are opening specialized clinics to care for individuals that have chronic symptoms or similar illnesses after they recover from COVID-19. Support groups are available, too.
It's important to remember that most 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 preventative measures. This includes using masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds, receiving a vaccine when available and keeping hands clean.
For further information about Dr. Stengler’s practice and his clinic in La Mesa, California, please visit our website at MarkStengler.com or give us a call at (760) 274-2377.