It’s now been a full year since the coronavirus outbreak began in the United States. As of today, there have been almost 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US alone.
One year later, doctors and scientists are still learning new things about the virus and its effects. While most people fully recover from the coronavirus in a few weeks, many other patients continue to struggle with symptoms months after first testing positive for the virus.
Long-term COVID-19, also known as long COVID or chronic COVID syndrome (CCS), is a condition that causes patients to experience fatigue, heart palpitations, fevers, and other COVID-like symptoms for weeks or even months—even after testing negative.
Florida Medical Clinic’s Chief Medical Officer and infectious disease specialist Dr. Emilio Dominguez explains what we know about long-term COVID-19 so far, including common symptoms and what treatments are currently available.
What We Know About Long-Term COVID-19
Experiencing long-haul symptoms after being cured of a disease isn’t something new. These lasting symptoms are known as sequelae (see-kwel-ah), which are chronic conditions that can occur after an acute (short-term) disease or injury. We’ve known since late 2020 that COVID-19 can lead to sequelae in some patients.
We also know that long COVID isn’t “just in your head.” While some may dismiss the lingering effects of COVID-19, we’ve seen a few global studies emerge that detail a pattern of patients experiencing at least one symptom after recovering from the virus. The National Institute of Health (NIH) announced they are beginning a new initiative to study long COVID and why it occurs.
Scientists are still studying how long-term COVID-19 manifests, and why it seems to last longer in some patients than in others. Some patients find their symptoms fade after a few weeks (or months), while others are still continuing to struggle with symptoms to this day.
We’re also learning how best to treat and manage this condition. As of March 2021, there aren’t any medications or therapies that have been approved by the FDA to specifically treat long COVID.
Who is most at risk of developing long COVID-19?
In a study from the UK, it’s estimated that as many as 1 in 10 COVID-19 patients may experience sequelae for as long as 12 weeks. Some may experience symptoms for even longer than that.
Age may be a factor in who develops lingering coronavirus symptoms—reported cases are highest in adult women over the age of 50. Furthermore, those who experience a wider variety of symptoms while battling the virus may be more likely to develop long-haul COVID. Patients with asthma or other chronic respiratory illnesses may also be at greater risk.
But anyone of any age can develop long COVID—even patients who were otherwise young and healthy before the disease and experienced minor symptoms while infected.
What are the symptoms of long COVID?
The symptoms of long COVID are similar to the symptoms of COVID-19. According to the CDC, these may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Joint pain and/or muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Difficulty thinking or staying focused (commonly called ‘brain fog’)
- Memory loss or trouble forming new memories
- Mental health changes (such as new or worsening depression)
- Loss of taste and/or smell
- Heart palpitations
- Intermittent fevers
- Nausea or vomiting
Less common are more serious symptoms, such as inflammation of the heart muscle, hair loss, and skin rashes.
How is long COVID treated?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one treatment that can cure long-haul cases of COVID-19. We’re still learning why long COVID develops and how it affects the body. Until we know more, doctors don’t have a set treatment plan for patients struggling with chronic symptoms.
Some patients have found that holistic chronic disease management can help provide relief from symptoms. Chronic disease management can include things like physical therapy to treat joint pain, counseling or meditation to help with depression, and plenty of rest before gradually increasing activity.
What should you do if you think you have long-term COVID-19?
If you suspect you have long COVID, you should talk to your family care doctor to learn how to best manage your symptoms.
Because long-term COVID-19 is still a relatively new phenomenon, doctors don’t have a standardized way of treating it. If you’re struggling with a wide range of symptoms, it may help to seek out a physician who specializes in helping patients with chronic diseases.
Furthermore, there are post-COVID-19 care facilities opening in hospitals across parts of the US. These facilities are intended to help patients manage chronic symptoms once they’ve been cleared of the virus. You can view a running list of aftercare facilities in Florida here.
Tips for Preventing COVID-19
The best way to prevent long-term COVID-19 is to reduce your risk of catching the coronavirus. Just as doctors and scientists have continued to recommend, these are the best ways to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19:
- Wear a mask when you go out. You should wear a mask or face covering that shields your mouth AND your nose. Read more about the types of masks that are best to wear.
- Wash your hands regularly. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after coming home, before eating, and after using the bathroom. If you don’t have soap and water on hand, use hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol.
- Stay socially distanced when you’re outside your home. Stay 6 feet away from others when out and about. Avoid gathering with large groups of people when it isn’t possible to stay socially distant.
- Get tested if you feel sick. If you start feeling flu-like symptoms, stay home except to get tested. Have other members of your household stay home, too.
It’s important to continue wearing masks and social distancing in public places even if you’ve received a full coronavirus vaccine. From the CDC, read what you can do once you’ve been fully vaccinated.
Get Notified About the Coronavirus Vaccine in Your Area
Getting a vaccine as soon as it’s available is the best way to protect yourself against the coronavirus. Doctors recommend you get the vaccine even if you’ve had COVID-19 before and recovered.
At Florida Medical Clinic, we’ve been providing COVID-19 vaccinations out of our Wiregrass building in Pasco County. Governor Ron Desantis recently announced that all Floridians over the age of 18 will be eligible as of starting April 5th. You can get the latest news and updates by signing up for our newsletter.
You can also visit https://myvaccine.fl.gov/ to learn more about vaccine eligibility requirements and to get on the Florida vaccine waitlist.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications or treatments.