While most people with COVID-19 get better within weeks, some continue to experience symptoms that can last for several months after they were first infected. In some cases, people have new symptoms, or they may have recurring symptoms at a later time. This can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19, even if the patient’s initial illness was mild or they were asymptomatic.
Guidance provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies symptoms persisting for four weeks or more after a COVID-19 infection as ‘post-COVID conditions’ or ‘long COVID,’ and states that, as of July 2021, this can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
For patients with long COVID, physiological impairments or conditions can affect the neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular and circulatory systems, among others. Mental impairments can include stress, depression, and other mental or emotional disorders.
Some patients who have had severe illness with COVID-19 can experience a number of different organs throughout the body being affected, and even autoimmune conditions. These symptoms and effects may last weeks or even months after the initial COVID-19 illness and can interfere with a great many body systems, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain. The body’s immune system can also inadvertently attack healthy cells within the body, resulting in multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS), which causes fever, diarrhea, shock, and kidney failure. These conditions usually occur 2-4 weeks after recovery from COVID-19.
In addition, effects of the illness or hospitalization, especially for patients who have been treated in the intensive care unit (ICU), can include post-intensive care syndrome (PICS), which refers to health effects such as severe muscle weakness, problems with thinking and judgment, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all of which take time to heal and recover from.
Symptoms that occur after hospitalization may be similar to symptoms of the virus itself, different symptoms, or a combination of both. As such, patients should continue to be observant after returning home from the hospital, and should consult a doctor who can help to distinguish these symptoms from other illnesses. To do this, your doctor will take your health history and ask about your symptoms and their impact on your daily life. You will also receive a health examination and may need to have other tests, such as blood tests, checks of your blood pressure, heart rate and heart functions, a lung X-ray and pulmonary function tests, and a CRP test to check the amount of inflammation in the body. These, and other tests, are carried out so that the condition or symptoms can be treated in the best, most effective way possible.
If the symptoms have a big impact on your life, your doctor may refer you to a medical expert who specializes in mental rehabilitation services or other specific symptoms you may have.
The best way to prevent post-COVID conditions is to prevent COVID-19 infection to begin with by getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you can. In addition to preventing COVID-19 infection, this can also help protect those around you. You should also take good self-care and prevention measures, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and always wearing a mask in public places.
For patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and wish to return to exercising, it is recommended that you start slowly with lighter exercise. Don’t exercise until you reach the point where you are completely exhausted, and protect the lungs from overexertion by allowing the body to recover and return to full health gradually. Also, during exercise, be on the lookout for any abnormal symptoms, including extreme tiredness and fatigue, chest tightness or pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, and excessive sweating. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should stop exercising immediately. Those over the age of 60 or who have underlying diseases should consult their doctor before exercising.
The spread and increase in numbers of COVID-19 infections throughout the world has caused a great deal of anxiety and harm to individuals, society, the economy, and more. There are also many patients throughout the world who, after having already recovered or who thought they had recovered, have experienced recurrent infection, relapse or even death, or who have suffered from long COVID or contracted other post-COVID conditions affecting their organs and immune system, as well as causing severe and long-term mental issues. As such, COVID-19 patients should be watchful for any symptoms, whether mild or severe. Even if you don’t appear to have any symptoms, remain observant and seek medical attention as soon as you notice any abnormalities in your physical health. Additionally, any patients who have had COVID-19 should see a doctor within 1-2 months after recovery in order to receive a thorough health check-up to protect yourself from long COVID conditions.