COVID-19 patients usually take around two weeks to recover, but some experience lingering symptoms beyond that. This condition is fairly common among former patients, with around 45% exhibiting post-COVID symptoms.
So, how can we identify COVID-19 long-haulers, why do these symptoms crop up, and how can we treat them? Let’s find out.
What is a COVID-19 Long-hauler?
A COVID-19 long-hauler is a person who exhibits prolonged COVID-19 symptoms after recovery, otherwise known as Post-COVID syndrome or long COVID. People usually recover from COVID-19 within a few weeks, but these people usually exhibit symptoms for months or even years after their initial COVID-19 diagnosis.
The best way to identify a COVID long-hauler, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is to check whether the ongoing symptoms have other explanations. If a former COVID-19 patient exhibits persistent symptoms without suffering from any other disease or medical conditions, they likely have post-COVID syndrome.
Why does long COVID happen?
Scientists are still researching the exact cause of Post-COVID conditions. However, three recent theories may explain why people develop long COVID:
- COVID-19 infection causes blood clots and blood vessel damage, which impair blood flow. These blood clots cause lung and heart issues often found in Post-COVID patients.
- COVID-19 infection may leave viral material in your body, which replicates and does the same kind of damage that its originators did to your body. This may explain why you still experience COVID-like symptoms despite having recovered weeks or months prior.
- COVID-19 infection affects your immune system, so it’s stuck on high alert, causing damage to your body.
While the cause is still undetermined, what we do know is that long COVID can happen regardless of vaccination status. Vaccination reduces the severity of long COVID if a breakthrough infection happens, but it doesn’t completely nullify the risk. Therefore, the only surefire way to prevent post-COVID conditions is to avoid COVID-19 infection in the first place.
What Aare the symptoms of long-haul COVID?
Most symptoms of long-haul COVID are similar to initial COVID-19 symptoms. Here’s an overview of the most common symptoms:
Persistent and often extreme fatigue is a common symptom among COVID-19 and Post-COVID syndrome patients. COVID-induced chronic fatigue syndrome usually happens because your body is hard at work fighting the virus.
In some cases, fatigue as part of Post-COVID conditions comes with post-exertional malaise, which the Centers for Disease Control defines as fatigue that worsens after physical or mental activity.
You may experience difficulty breathing or other respiratory symptoms after recovering from COVID-19. This is a common sign of Post-COVID syndrome because COVID-19 is largely a respiratory disease, although it does attack other parts of your body.
Many post-COVID patients report muscle, joint, stomach, and chest pain. COVID-related pain symptoms usually result from the virus-damaging muscle fibres and triggering inflammatory responses in your body. In more extreme cases, pain caused by the COVID-19 virus can seriously impede your quality of life and prevent you from going to work or completing other daily activities.
Brain fog, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health issues
While COVID-19 primarily affects your lungs, it also impacts your brain, which leaves many former patients with brain fog, anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health issues. Brain fog is a catch-all term for cognitive impairment, difficulty remembering things, and similar issues commonly encountered by people with post-COVID syndrome.
In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, there are many more long-haul COVID symptoms found in patients. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some of the most commonly -reported post-COVID symptoms:
- Sleep problems
- Central nervous system damage
- Weight gain
- Appetite changes
- Loss of smell or taste
- Menstrual cycle changes
- Weakened blood vessels
- Rapid heartbeat
Who gets long COVID-19?
People who were infected with COVID-19 can get long COVID, even if they only had mild symptoms.
We cannot ascertain why some people get long COVID while others don’t. Still, there ’is always a chance for somebody to exhibit Post-COVID conditions after recovering from COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status and whether they were severely ill from it.
Risk factors for long COVID-19
Researchers are still trying to determine the exact reason why some people get post-COVID-19 syndrome and some don’t. However, they identified risk factors that may increase your chances of contracting Post-COVID-19 syndrome, such as:
Sex and age
Researchers suggest that women aged 40 to 60 are at the most risk of developing post-COVID symptoms after their initial infection. Women in that age group are also more vulnerable to autoimmune disease and chronic fatigue, so researchers suspect a link between those diseases and the occurrence of long COVID symptoms.
Vaccinated people have extra protection from post-COVID conditions, but they are not entirely safe. Statistics in the United Kingdom show that vaccinated people have a 41.1% lower risk of catching long COVID. While vaccines do not entirely protect you from long COVID, they still protect you and reduce its severity, so getting vaccinated is a good idea.
Ongoing health problems
Pre-existing conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart issues, and other ongoing health problems may raise your risk of getting Post-COVID-19 syndrome. Most people with pre-existing medical conditions have weaker immune systems than those with a clear medical history, so it ’is more common for them to experience lingering symptoms and more severe illness.
COVID-19 viral load
Viral load or how much COVID-19 viral material you are exposed to may affect your chances of developing post-COVID conditions. Patients affected by a higher viral load are more likely to experience a more severe initial illness, reducing their ability to fight the virus – this leads to severe symptoms of post-COVID.
Treatment for long-term COVID-19 effects
While we don’t have all the information to determine an exact cause just yet, we can still manage long COVID-19 by addressing the symptoms. Here are some ways you can treat common signs of post-COVID conditions:
Fatigue and post-exertional malaise
Treating fatigue and post-exertional malaise often revolves around managing your energy and slowly rebuilding strength and endurance. Some common treatment methods for fatigue-related post-COVID symptoms include:
- Performing stretching and aerobic activities
- Implementing energy management strategies, like cutting big tasks up into smaller bits with rest periods in between
Shortness of breath
Doctors usually manage shortness of breath due to long COVID-19 by helping your breathing muscles work better – this makes breathing easier. Some example treatments for shortness of breath are:
- Trying different positions to find which one lets you breathe the best
- Performing breathing exercises like pursed lip breathing and blow-as-you-go in daily activities
COVID-19 can damage the heart through oxygen deprivation, inflammation, and muscle disorders. The cause of heart issues in post-COVID conditions usually vary, so doctors manage them by:
- Scheduling examinations with cardiovascular specialists
- Prescribing a medication or rehabilitation regimen based on the symptoms
Post-COVID pain symptoms are often similar to long-term symptoms of chronic joint, muscle, and chest pain issues. This means treatments that work for chronic pain can help those with post-COVID pain.
Some common treatments for joint, muscle, and stomach pain experienced by COVID long-haulers include:
- Getting enough sleep
- Performing regular physical activity
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet
- Managing stress levels
Brain fog and other mental health issues
Some people experience brain fog, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological issues as part of their post-COVID conditions. Here are common ways to manage mental health issues caused by long COVID-19:
- Participating in group counseling and therapy sessions for COVID long-haulers
- Taking medication to manage depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental issues
- Avoiding addictive substances like alcohol and drugs
- Performing cognitively -stimulating activities like creating art and playing musical instruments
Tips for dealing with long-haul COVID-19 symptoms
Dealing with long-term symptoms of COVID-19 can be frustrating because you don’t feel fully well even after recovering from an infection. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can deal with post-COVID-19 syndrome:
Stay in contact with your doctor
Your primary care doctor should know how to treat post-COVID-19 symptoms. Even after you have gotten the medication or treatment plan to address your current symptoms, stay in contact with them in case other issues come up.
Stay informed about COVID-19
Viruses mutate, and there are numerous variants of COVID-19 out there. Keep a close eye on the news and follow public health measures in your area to prevent further exposure to COVID-19.
Enact COVID-19 prevention measures
The best way to prevent long COVID is to not get infected with the coronavirus disease in the first place. Follow prevention measures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control, like wearing masks, keeping a safe distance from others, improving indoor ventilation, and washing hands.
Anybody infected with COVID-19 is vulnerable to post-COVID conditions and may exhibit symptoms weeks after recovering from the initial infection. Symptoms of long COVID include brain fog, unresolved pain, and extreme fatigue.
Since the exact cause of post-COVID conditions is still undetermined, the best way to prevent it is to not get infected in the first place. Stay in contact with your doctor and enact COVID-19 prevention measures to protect yourself from post-COVID conditions.
If you need to know more about recovery process about your COVID-19 long journey, we are here to help. Reach out to us and join us in our Post-COVID Community.