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Everything we know about possible long-term effects of COVID-19

  • Everything we know about possible long-term effects of COVID-19

    Experts estimate that the United States alone could have hundreds of thousands of patients with long-term effects of COVID-19. These patients, often called “long haulers,” continue to see symptoms ranging from heart complications to rashes, causing researchers to seek answers down many different paths. Stacker has compiled 36 facts about “long haul” COVID-19 patients, from symptoms to demographics, using data from the Mayo Clinic, The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project, and new sources.

    Many “long haul” COVID-19 patients have symptoms similar to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). They may have debilitating fatigue, brain fog, and even the same challenges that existing CFS patients face when trying to communicate their needs to doctors. Researchers believe many CFS cases come from a viral infection of some kind, and they’ve pointed out that diagnoses of CFS rise after almost all pandemic events.

    SARS in particular has offered today’s researchers a way to begin understanding “long haul” COVID-19 patients. Do symptoms that last for months after initial COVID-19 infection necessarily last forever, or will they improve with time or treatment? Doctors must be ready to really listen to patients with these symptoms, but instead, patients have reported having difficulty being taken seriously. This is already a problem people who suffer CFS are familiar with. And research shows that women and minorities already face inferior medical care compared to white men, an issue that predates COVID-19 but has been highlighted during the pandemic and will continue to be a problem in its aftermath.

    There are also overlapping effects from “long haul” COVID-19 in different body systems. The heart, for example, may be damaged by the way the virus works and then further weakened by autonomic changes to the heart’s rhythms and damage to the blood vessels. For patients who fear they’re experiencing “long haul” or resurging COVID-19 symptoms, the best idea is to talk to a trusted doctor as soon as possible in order to understand and mitigate harm. This could involve physical therapy, medical treatment, and more.

    Read on to learn what we know about CFS and other potential long-term effects of COVID-19.

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  • “Long haulers” have fatigue

    Mayo Clinic reports that people with “long haul” COVID-19 are likely to experience fatigue. This can range from low level, episodic fatigue to full-on chronic fatigue syndrome, doctors believe.

     

  • Increased risk for cognitive illness

    People who have contracted COVID-19 are more likely to get brain conditions like seizures, strokes, and Guillain-Barre syndrome. They may also be more likely to have cognitive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease in the long term.

  • Symptoms last four to five months

    The group considered “long haulers” may have active symptoms for up to five months. Even after that, their recovery is often spotty and marked by setbacks.

  • Fatigue and breathing problems

    In a study of 143 released patients in Rome, 53% had fatigue and 43% had shortness of breath even after two months. Researchers believe this could be related to the lung damage and scarring that COVID-19 causes. The expected duration of a COVID-19 case that’s not “long haul” is about two weeks.

  • “Long haulers” have chest pain

    Patients with “long haul” COVID-19 infections report chest pain as one of their major lingering symptoms. “Long haul” cases tend to have been mild at first, so this pain is probably from lung damage and scarring rather than ventilator complications.

     

  • “Long haulers” are mostly women

    Emerging data on “long haul” COVID-19 patients suggests they may be mostly women. Researchers will have to do more work to understand why this is, but it has implications for how “long haulers” will be treated.

  • “Long haulers” are young and healthy

    The CDC finds that 1 in 5 “young and healthy adults” who caught COVID-19 ended up with prolonged problems afterward. The average age of those with “long haul” COVID-19 infections is just 44. That’s well below the age range considered highest risk for severe cases of COVID-19, and the set of symptoms is very different. The overall group is also healthier than average, with far fewer hospitalizations for their main symptoms.

  • “Long haulers” have memory problems

    People with “long haul” COVID-19 cases report much higher levels of memory problems, concentration problems, and sleep problems. Symptoms like “brain fog” and fatigue compound and leave many of these “long haulers” less able to work, for example.

  • “Long haulers” have heart abnormalities

    A study of COVID-19 patients in Germany found that more than three-fourths still had heart abnormalities up to three months and beyond after their original COVID-19 infection. Researchers don’t yet understand the extent of these abnormalities.

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  • Long term UK study to follow patients

    The PHOSP-COVID study in the United Kingdom will follow the outcomes of 10,000 COVID-19 patients for a year. Researchers will take measurements and conduct tests to monitor how patients recover and bounce back during the year.