Some former COVID-19 patients experience long-term symptoms from their infection. This problem is known as long COVID, long-haul COVID, and many more.
What causes COVID conditions? Why are people susceptible to them? and How do you recover from long COVID? These questions will help us discover how we thrive with long-haul COVID.
What is long COVID?
Long COVID refers to COVID-related symptoms and conditions that linger after recovery from the initial COVID-19 infection. Most people who contract COVID-19 get better within one or two weeks and take three months to fully recover.
However, some symptoms persist for weeks or even months after recovering from the initial infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines long COVID as lingering and new symptoms that last for months after the initial COVID-19 infection without any other explanations.
Long COVID symptoms and signs
Different people exhibit different long COVID symptoms, but the unifying factor is that these symptoms come from their previous COVID-19 infection.
Some of the most commonly reported symptoms of long COVID syndrome are persistent fatigue and fevers. These symptoms may worsen after physical or mental exertion, a condition known as post-exertional malaise.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some other symptoms seen in people with Post-COVID syndrome:
Respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms
Some common heart and respiratory conditions found in Post-COVID sufferers include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeats
Neurological and mental symptoms
Researchers found that COVID-19 causes brain structure changes, often leading to reduced cognitive function. One of the most common symptoms is known as brain fog, which refers to a general sense of forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and other cognitive impairments.
Other common neurological symptoms seen in Post-COVID patients in addition to brain fog are:
- Sleep disorders
- Central nervous system damage
- Persistent pins-and-needles feelings
- Loss or change in smell and taste
- Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental issues
Some COVID-19 patients reported that the disease affects their digestive system, causing stomach pain and other related problems. Unfortunately, the damage to your digestive system may persist long after the initial COVID-19 infection.
Here are digestive system issues many patients experience from Post-COVID conditions:
- Stomach or abdominal pain
- Weight gain
- Loss or increase of appetite
In addition to all the symptoms mentioned above, here are some additional signs of Post-COVID syndrome:
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Menstrual cycle changes
- Susceptibility to other infectious diseases and medical conditions
Duration of symptoms of Post-COVID syndrome
There’s no definitive answer to how long COVID symptoms can last. Research published in the British Medical Journal shows that most people recover from Post-COVID syndrome within one year, but not everybody can recover within that time frame – another report shows that some people are still severely ill and experience long COVID complications for years.
Unfortunately, persistent symptoms of long COVID can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. While symptoms of Post-COVID conditions are bad, the succeeding mental and physical issues can make somebody’s health even worse. Long-haul COVID patients often have a compromised immune system, which makes them more susceptible to other diseases.
Causes and risk factors of long COVID
The exact cause of long COVID is still undetermined by scientists. However, there are three leading theories put forward by researchers trying to identify what causes these symptoms in former COVID-19 patients:
- Blood clots: This theory posits that COVID-19 leaves tiny blood clots and vessel damage in the patient’s lungs, causing difficulty with breathing and other problems.
- Persistent virus infection: This theory blames Post-COVID syndrome on the remaining viral material after a person has recovered from COVID-19. These virus copies can still replicate, causing the same damage that the initial COVID-19 did to the person’s body.
- Immune system dysfunction: This theory states that people develop long COVID-19 due to the destabilization of their immune system. After contracting COVID-19, their immune system is stuck on high alert, causing various health issues.
There are also risk factors that may increase the likelihood of somebody suffering from Post-COVID symptoms, even if they are not hospitalized for COVID-19. Some common risk factors are:
- High blood pressure
- Other serious health conditions
Prevention of long COVID
As long as we don’t know the exact cause of long COVID-19, we can’t really determine how to prevent people from contracting Post-COVID syndrome. However, we know that vaccination reduces the severity of your long-haul COVID-19 symptoms in the case of a breakthrough infection.
Since you can still get long COVID even after getting vaccinated, the best way to prevent it is to not get COVID-19 in the first place. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control has a guide on reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Here’s what you need to do, according to the guide:
- Improve your room’s ventilation and spend more time outdoors to reduce your exposure to airborne COVID-19 particles.
- Wear high-quality masks outdoors to prevent inhaling COVID-19 particles.
- Follow social distancing rules to minimize COVID-19 exposure.
- Avoid face-to-face contact with COVID-19 patients and possible suspects.
- Self-isolate as soon as possible if you have been exposed to somebody with COVID-19.
- Get tested if you experience signs of COVID-19 infection.
- Contact your primary care provider if you tested positive for COVID-19.
What is the treatment for long-haul COVID-19?
The treatment for long-haul COVID-19 depends on what signs you exhibit. Most of the time, you need whole-person care and treatment because long COVID can affect multiple organ systems at once. Here’s a look at how your primary care provider might treat long COVID based on the symptoms suffered:
Commonly found symptoms of Post-COVID syndrome include persistent fatigue and post-exertional malaise. Some treatment methods your primary care provider may recommend include:
- Performing strength and endurance exercises
- Going through physical therapy
- Implementing strategies to maintain energy levels
- Following a healthy sleep schedule
- Using hacks and tips to make daily tasks easier, like breaking a big task into smaller steps and taking frequent breaks
Respiratory and cardiological symptoms
Respiratory and cardiological symptoms of long COVID can seriously threaten a person’s quality of life. Here are some treatment and symptom management methods doctors and healthcare providers may recommend:
- Taking over-the-counter cough medicine
- Staying hydrated and drinking lots of fluids
- Avoiding cigarette smoke
- Doing controlled coughing to clear mucus and free airways
- Performing aerobic and deep breathing exercises
- Going through a cardiac rehabilitation regimen
Brain fog, sleep disorders, and other mental issues due to long COVID can damage a person’s daily life just as badly as physical long-hauler symptoms. Some ways you can manage and treat PPost COVID syndrome’s neurological symptoms are:
- Getting support from group counseling and mental healthcare professionals
- Taking medication for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental issues
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs
- Engaging in cognitively -stimulating activities like playing music, practicing mindfulness, and creating art
Digestive system issues in long COVID patients can damage a person’s appetite and eating habits, causing weight gain and making them susceptible to other diseases. Here are some ways you can manage these long-haul symptoms:
- Eating the right foods at the right time
- Eating meals slowly
- Avoiding highly -processed foods
- Following a healthy and balanced diet
When to talk with a doctor
The right time to talk to a primary care doctor for symptom management differs for everyone developing long COVID. Some COVID long-haulers don’t have to see a doctor because their symptoms are light, but others have specific symptoms that require them to see a doctor immediately.
A good rule of thumb for patients affected by long COVID is to monitor their condition regularly. If they experience lingering symptoms for more than four weeks or symptoms that affect their quality of life, it’s time to see a doctor.
Long COVID has various symptoms, so not everyone exhibits the same symptoms or has similar experiences. One of the only unifying factors of long COVID is that these symptoms linger for at least a few weeks after recovering from COVID-19.
The exact cause of Post-COVID is still unknown, but research has shown that vaccinated people can still get it through breakthrough infections, albeit less severely than unvaccinated people. Therefore, the best way to prevent Post-COVID is to not get infected in the first place.
If you exhibit signs of Post-COVID conditions, you can still contact a doctor to get treatment. Some common treatments for Post-COVID conditions include physical therapy, drug regimens, and positive lifestyle changes.
If you feel you are alone in your Post- COVID-19 journey, we are here to help. Know more about the support we offer and end your long COVID troubles by reaching out to us. Contact us now.