Now that we’re a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re beginning to have an understanding of the lasting long-term effects the disease has.
Prolonged symptoms have colloquially been called long COVID, and those who are experiencing these symptoms are colloquially called long haulers.
Long COVID may also be referred to as long-term COVID, chronic COVID, or post COVID syndrome, as no official term has been established yet.
It’s important to remember research on COVID-19 and its prolonged effects on the body have only just begun, and to date we cannot draw any firm conclusions on the long-term effects of the disease.
The studies we highlight here represent only initial findings, and should be taken with a grain of salt.
To begin, we are discovering that long-term complications from COVID-19 are fairly common.
In October of 2020, the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health Research announced 10 to 20% of people who contracted COVID-19 continue to have symptoms or complications of COVID-19 one month after diagnosis.
One study in Italy suggested 87% of patients infected with COVID-19 continued to have persistent symptoms 60 days after their initial symptoms began.
With the rising number of people experiencing long-term COVID-19 symptoms, the British National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, also called NICE, has categorized three unique stages of COVID-19 recovery.
The acute COVID-19 stage is the period of recovery within 4 weeks after diagnosis.
The ongoing COVID-19 stage lasts 4 to 12 weeks after diagnosis, and the long COVID stage lasts over 12 weeks after diagnosis.
Fatigue is the most common symptom that appears to continue to persist after COVID-19 infection.
A study in Ireland found over half of all patients continued to have persistent symptoms of fatigue 10 weeks after initial diagnosis, regardless of how severe their initial symptoms were.
Cardiopulmonary issues such as shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain are also common.
A study in the United Kingdom found 60% of patients admitted to general medicine floors and 72% of intensive care patients had continuing shortness of breath 4 to 8 weeks after hospital discharge.
A German group used an MRI on a number of COVID-19 patients and found 78% of them had some sort of cardiac issue potentially caused by the disease around 2 to 3 months after diagnosis, with 60% of patients showing myocardial inflammation.
Common neurological issues 3 months after diagnosis appear to be headaches, sensory loss including vision, hearing, taste, smell, and numbness, mobility challenges, memory loss, tremors, and cognitive impairment.
It’s not clear if these symptoms are a continuation of the initial COVID-19 infection, or if they are related to an entirely new, yet separate, post-COVID-19 syndrome that we have only begun to uncover.
There are, however, a few hypotheses that have been proposed which could be contributing to the prolongation of COVID-19 symptoms.
Some people’s immune systems may respond to COVID-19 more strongly than others.