Coronavirus disease, also referred to as COVID-19, occurs when you are infected with the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Some people with COVID-19 do not have any symptoms, while others experience a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. We are still learning about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the body. Most people will recover completely from COVID-19 within a few weeks. However, some people may continue to experience symptoms even after the first part of the illness is over, regardless of the severity of the initial illness.
‘Long COVID’ is the term that is often used to describe these persistent symptoms. You are considered to have ‘Long COVID’ when you are still having symptoms at least 4 weeks after the initial infection. Long COVID may also be referred to by other names such as post-COVID conditions, PASC (post-acute sequelae of COVID-19) or long-haul COVID.
Researchers around the world are trying to understand why some people develop Long COVID. People of all ages have been diagnosed with long COVID, including people with no underlying health conditions. Young and otherwise healthy people, and even those with mild infections, can be affected. More research is needed on the wide range of symptoms and why some people have more severe symptoms than others.
COVID-19 may affect many organs including the lungs, heart, brain, liver, kidney and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Since COVID-19 can affect so many organs, it causes a wide range of symptoms. People with Long COVID may have symptoms that persist for several weeks or months. The most common symptoms are:
People who were in the intensive care unit (ICU) for COVID-19 may experience other specific symptoms. These include weakness, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Post-intensive care syndrome or PICS refers to symptoms experienced by people recovering from critical illness (i.e., being hospitalized in the ICU). If a patient was hospitalized with COVID in the ICU, they may have overlapping symptoms between PICS and long COVID.
There is still no definite single diagnostic test for Long COVID. For now, the diagnosis is based on reported symptoms with a history of known COVID infection. Many Long COVID symptoms are also common in other health conditions. If these symptoms have been worse since you fell ill, or you are experiencing them for the first time, then the cause of these symptoms may be Long COVID. Your doctor may order tests to see if there are any impacts to your lungs, heart, or kidneys, as such changes may be found in Long COVID, although they are not required to make the diagnosis.
We still have a lot to learn about Long COVID and how to care for patients with this condition. There is no known treatment specifically for Long COVID. Management of Long COVID focuses on decreasing the severity of symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe treatments that are used to manage similar symptoms that happen with other health conditions. You may be referred to a specialist who has experience treating patients with similar symptoms. If you experience ongoing breathing problems and difficulty in performing your daily activities, your doctor may order a chest x-ray, CT scan, or breathing tests to check for signs of lung injury. You may be advised to take part in an exercise and education program called pulmonary rehabilitation. A pulmonary rehab or exercise program may help to reduce the severity of symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Some people with Long COVID experience worsening symptoms after extreme exertion. You should carefully pace yourself when doing activities. Try to limit your stress and prioritize taking care of both your mental and physical health. If you are experiencing symptoms that are limiting your ability to return to your usual activities, it is important to reach out to your healthcare provider for more guidance.
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