The Symptoms That Continue to Linger
People who were infected by COVID and have since recovered, yet still continue to have symptoms, are said to be dealing with “long covid”. These are effects of COVID that continue to linger after four weeks of being diagnosed. Older people and people with serious medical conditions are more likely to experience these longer symptoms, however younger, seemingly healthy people are also experiencing them.
Long COVID is seen as a chronic illness with a wide variety of symptoms, many of which are not explainable using traditional lab tests. This has led to many patients being dismissed, however much research is being conducted to take a closer look at this phenomenon. Studies have shown that 10 to 30 percent of people infected may develop long term symptoms.
There are four factors that seem to increase the risk:
High levels of viral RNA early during the infection
The presence of certain antibodies
The reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus
Long Covid may affect many different parts of your body, such as:
Chronic immune dysfunction may occur after having COVID. This can set off a chain of reactions in the body. Viral genetic material may remain embedded in the tissues, which would cause brain fog, gastrointestinal problems, and other symptoms. Studies have also found a high level of autoantibodies, which attack the patients tissues. All of this combined leads to a weaker immune system.
Many patients who are experiencing long covid have difficulty exercising. Initial studies show that dysfunction in the circulatory system might impair the flow of oxygen to muscles and other tissues, limiting aerobic capacity and causing severe fatigue. Many patients develop chronic fatigue syndrome, in which fatigue worsens with physical or mental activity, but does not improve with rest.
Even people with mild cases are experiencing reduced attention, memory and word-finding. Brain fog is another symptom many are experiencing. Although it is still unclear how the virus affects the brain, one research group found that long covid reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain.
Shortness of breath is a very common symptom of people with covid, however common lung tests, such as chest x-rays and CAT scans, come back normal. Preliminary research shows lung damage in a small group of long covid patients. More research is being conducted to verify this.
Living With Long Covid
There is still a lot that is unknown about how COVID will affect people long term, however research is still ongoing. Many hospitals now offer post-Covid recovery programs and clinics. It is important to continue to take precautions, such as wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, and receiving regular tests, in order to keep you and your community safe.