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.
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.
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.
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.
Similarly a Chinese study found over 50% of patients performed worse on spirometry pulmonary function tests 30 days after discharge from the hospital.
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.