Once you get COVID, symptoms are expected to last 5 or 10 days. For some people, however—in fact, an estimated 10 to 30% of people who get COVID—certain symptoms can last for months, years, possibly forever. It’s a living nightmare. “Long COVID means the persistence of signs and symptoms that are not explainable by any readily recognizable pathogenic process following the recovery from the acute infection,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, this very week. “Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” adds the CDC. Who can get this Long COVID? And what should you do if it happens to you? And how can you tell you have it—what are the symptoms? Read on for the full list from the CDC——and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Who can get Long COVID? Anyone. Young, old, predisposed to illness, perfectly healthy, an elderly man in a wheelchair, a young marathon runner who thinks “it’ll never happen to me”—Long COVID has struck down people of all shapes, sizes and ages, though some studies show it happens more frequently to women. As to why this happens: No one knows for sure. “Right now, the data are starting to come in,” said Dr. Fauci this week. “It’s too early to make any definitive statements, but for those individuals…there have been some suggestions that it is an aberrant inflammatory response, perhaps some element of auto-immunity, perhaps some element of persistence of nucleotide fragments from the virus. All of these now are being actively pursued, but before we can make any definitive statements, we need to learn a lot more about it, but the ultimate goal of figuring out how we might be able to mitigate or prevent some of the symptoms.”
Says the CDC: “Even people who did not have COVID-19 symptoms in the days or weeks after they were infected can have post-COVID conditions. These conditions can present as different types and combinations of health problems for different lengths of time. These post-COVID conditions may also be known as long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, long-term effects of COVID, or chronic COVID. CDC and experts around the world are working to learn more about short- and long-term health effects associated with COVID-19, who gets them, and why.” Keep reading to hear about each of the most common symptoms.
Given that COVID is in part a respiratory disease, it’s not a shock that shortness of breath can be a lasting symptom. “After an illness you may find you have difficulty catching your breath and feel short of breath more easily. This is called breathlessness. This can happen if you’ve had coronavirus (COVID-19), even if you did not need treatment in hospital,” says the NHS. If you cannot breathe, seek emergency medical attention. “Breathlessness can feel scary but there are several things you can do to help. Using a different position will allow your breathing muscles to work better and help you to feel less short of breath. You might find one position works best for you. Feelings of panic will often make your breathlessness worse. So, trying to relax in your preferred position will also help.”
The fatigue one feels with Long COVID can be never ending and profoundly debilitating. Imagine waking up every morning feeling like you never slept. “Long-term effects are turning out to be common,” reported Scientific American last year. “A study published in June in the journal Nature Medicine looked at about 300 patients in Bergen, Norway—almost all of the patients diagnosed in the city during several months in 2020. Six months after their initial diagnosis, 61 percent of the group had persistent symptoms. The most common problem was fatigue, followed by difficulty concentrating, disturbed smell or taste, memory trouble and difficulty breathing. Many of these patients were younger, aged 16 to 30, and initially had only a mild or moderate case of COVID.”
Also known as post-exertional malaise, according to the CDC, this symptom can be one of the worst. Imagine you’re having an OK day, but then you do something normal—take a walk, stress about work, chase your son around, clean the house vigorously—and within 12 to 44 hours, you’re beset by a killer migraine, or crushing fatigue, or feel poisoned. This is happening.
Defined by Fauci as an “inability to concentrate,” this symptom is known by a lot of people who had COVID, as it often appears in the early stages. Imagine it never going away. This is one reason why, “yes, long COVID can be a disability under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557 if it substantially limits one or more major life activities,” according to the U.S. government.
Got a headache, pop a few Advil, right? Wrong. For many Long Haulers, their headaches and migraines will not go away using traditional methods, requiring powerful prescriptions to ease the pain—and sometimes, they can be lucky if those work. COVID is now known to infect not just the lungs but it messes with all your systems, including your brain. Inflammation there and in your vascular system can follow an infection—and not stop. It can be torturous.
What Dr. Fauci describes as “myalgias” can appear—pains that pop up in your neck or on your leg or in your belly. One Long Hauler felt he was having heart pain when really it was costochondritis, an inflammation of his rib cartilage.
Besides the symptoms you’ve just read about, the CDC goes on to list the following:
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
- Pins-and-needles feeling
- Sleep problems
- Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness)
- Mood changes
- Change in smell or taste
- Changes in menstrual period cycles
As you can see, Long COVID can be life-ruining. Fortunately, the NIH is investing in research to find the cause, and a possible cure. “There is a very large study that’s been initiated some time ago — the RECOVER study — at the NIH in collaboration with other agencies looking at the incidence, the prevalence, and hopefully understanding the pathogenic mechanisms of long COVID,” Dr. Fauci said this week.
There is no cure for Long COVID. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and they can try to treat it, or find a speciality center near you. Expect a wait. “So many people are suffering from Long COVID that treatment centers can’t keep up,” reports Time this week. “In many ways, that’s understandable: the diagnosis did not exist before 2020. New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System was one of the first places in the country to launch a post-COVID-19 recovery center, in May 2020. By early 2021, many top U.S. hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and Massachusetts General Hospital, had taken notice and opened their own practices. There is now at least one Long COVID treatment clinic in almost every U.S. state, according to a directory kept by Survivor Corps, a COVID-19 and Long COVID patient-support group.” Contact one, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.