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Learning About Long COVID

By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT

 

It has been over a year since the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States, and with every passing month, we learn more about the disease. 

 

While most people fully recover from COVID-19, some describe symptoms lasting weeks or months after the initial four weeks of the disease. This prolonged phase of symptoms has been named long COVID. 

 

Coronavirus: a family of hundreds of different viruses, mostly found in animals. Only seven coronaviruses have been known to jump to humans, the latest being the virus that causes COVID-19. 

 

COVID-19: the disease caused by SARS-CoV2, a coronavirus. It affects multiple areas of the body, with the lungs being the most commonly affected. Typical symptoms during the acute phase are fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

 

Long COVID: while this definition is evolving, it currently refers to new or persistent symptoms more than four weeks beyond the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. 

 

Long-hauler: a person experiencing long COVID.

 

Symptoms of Long COVID

 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the most commonly reported symptoms of long COVID as:

 

  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • cough
  • joint pain
  • chest pain

 

Less commonly reported:

 

  • “brain fog” or difficulty with thinking and concentration
  • depression
  • muscle pain
  • headache
  • intermittent fever
  • a fast-beating or pounding heart

 

Duration of Long COVID

 

Many people fully recover from COVID-19 disease, but those with long COVID report symptoms for weeks or months. The research will need to continue for years to determine the trends, but some people report symptoms one year after the illness.

 

Researching a New Disease

 

The early stages of studying a new disease can feel like a child's connect-the-dot drawing — you can’t always make out the bigger picture until quite a few dots have been connected. 

 

The more dots you have, or in this case, studies on COVID-19, the clearer the picture of this disease becomes. The best research involves studying big groups — thousands if possible. Data collected over several years is ideal. 

 

So, gathering the best information about COVID-19 and long COVID will take time. Still, studies published in the last few months provide some early clues.

 

Samples from Recent Research on Long COVID

 

From a study published in January 2021 with a sampling of 238 patients who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and reporting symptoms four months after illness:

 

  • 51.6% demonstrated at least mild lung impairment and 15.5% at least moderate impairment on standardized lung testing 
  • Women, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those admitted to an ICU had a greater risk of developing a moderate lung impairment
  • Although age is a factor in surviving COVID-19, age was not a factor in the likelihood of experiencing long COVID
  • 1 in 5 people had limited mobility on a standardized test of walking, standing balance, and rising from a chair
  • 1 in 20 still reported one of the following: difficulty breathing, loss of taste, joint pain, or muscle pain

 

A study, also published in January 2021, of 1,733 hospitalized patients, six months after COVID-19 illness:

 

  • 76% reported at least one ongoing symptom

  • 63% reported fatigue or muscle weakness

  • 1 in 4 reported dyspnea or difficulty breathing

  • 1 in 4 reported sleeping difficulties

 

Treatment of Long COVID

While treatment appears to be directed towards the organs affected, the best approach is to communicate any lingering symptoms with your physician. 

Talking with Others About Long COVID Symptoms

Patient advocacy groups are helping to identify symptoms the public is experiencing after COVID-19 disease. To participate, contact:

COVID Advocacy Exchange

The National Patient Advocate Foundation COVID Care Resource Center

The Body Politic COVID-19 Support Group 

Survivor Corps 

Patient-Led Research for COVID-19

Learn More

The latest information on COVID-19 or long COVID can be found at:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Long Covid

World Health Organization (WHO) 

Oregon Health Authority

 

Do you know someone who had COVID-19 who might be interested in this article? Please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.

Beth Jennings, PT, MPT is a freelance writer and a physical therapist.

 

Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

 

References:

Mattia Bellan, MD, PhD1,2; Daniele Soddu, MD1,2; Piero Emilio Balbo, MD2; et al. Respiratory and Psychophysical Sequelae Among Patients With COVID-19 Four Months After Hospital Discharge. JAMA Network Open. 2021;4(1):e2036142. 

 

Nalbandian, A., Sehgal, K., Gupta, A. et al. Post-acute COVID-19 syndrome. Nat Med (2021).

 

Huang, C., Huang, L, et al. 6-month consequences of COVID-19 in patients discharged from hospital: a cohort study. Lancet Jan 16, 2021. Volume 397 (Issue 10270), p220-232

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