Most Covid-19 patients recover quickly, and may only experience symptoms for a few days, if at all. However, as many as 1 in 10 people may experience post-COVID-19 syndrome, or long COVID.
For most people, COVID-19 is a mild illness that passes quickly. Individuals' symptoms can differ dramatically, while a significant percentage of people experience no symptoms at all.
At around the mid-point of 2020, reports began to emerge of people experiencing prolonged COVID-19 symptoms. While many of these people had previously tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered from their illness, a significant percentage reported symptoms despite never having had COVID-19, at least as far as they knew.
This quickly led to the continuation of symptoms being labelled as post-COVID-19 syndrome, or long COVID.
The United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) defines long COVID as experiencing COVID-19 symptoms for over 12 weeks.
As with everything else concerning COVID-19, we continue to learn more every day; however, we do know at present:
At the time of writing, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 dashboard reported over 103 million positive global COVID-19 cases. We know this data is incomplete, due to a combination of factors, including:
However, we can still assume that at least 10 million people worldwide are experiencing or will experience long COVID.
As with COVID-19 itself, the symptoms of long COVID can differ between patients.
We know that patients who experience severe COVID-19 illness leading to pneumonia or respiratory failure may suffer lung scarring and long-term damage to other organs. Some studies also indicate that severe COVID-19 patients have a higher risk of suffering a subsequent dangerous blood clot, heart attack, or stroke.
However, you can experience long COVID symptoms no matter how severe your experience of COVID-19. Indeed, as we saw earlier, some people will develop symptoms following an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection!
Commonly identified and observed symptoms of long COVID include:
It’s easy to see how experiencing some specific symptoms can exacerbate others. For example, there have been several reports of people experiencing worsening mental health, due to previously being fit and active, but now unable to pursue certain hobbies and passions.
As well as the symptoms themselves differing, individual experiences of long COVID tend to be unique, too.
While some patients experience continuous symptoms, for others they can come and go, sometimes returning suddenly and without warning. As such, long COVID can have a prolonged effect on our careers and personal lives, as well as our health.
Long COVID is our body continuing to react to the initial COVID-19 infection. We experience symptoms and illness as our body effectively ends up attacking itself once we've rid ourselves of the virus.
It depends; everyone is different.
It’s perhaps most crucial to remember that it's common for viral illnesses to have long-lasting effects. We have heard much about long COVID in recent months because of the pandemic's continuing prevalence and visibility. Still, you're just as likely to have felt long-term effects from an influenza virus as you are to experience long COVID.
At the same time, for most other viruses, we would expect to be free of symptoms, other than tiredness, within three months, which is why long COVID may be unique.
No. Once you have completed any required period of isolation following a positive COVID-19 test, you will no longer be contagious.
Depending on the treatments available to help you deal with long COVID, you might be able to access further COVID-19 tests to ensure you continue to test negative. While a recent UK Biobank report highlights that up to 80% of people retain COVID-19 antibodies six-months post-recovery, there is still a chance you could become re-infected.
Many countries have already created physiotherapy and rehabilitation centres to treat long COVID patients and ease pressure on healthcare systems still dealing with vast numbers of COVID-19 patients. Countries have also deployed various treatment plans to help patients, depending on the severity of their symptoms. For example, in the United Kingdom, some healthcare providers offer a four-week in-patient stay for long COVID patients. However, for many patients, a self-guided rehabilitation program and regular outpatient check-ups are sufficient.
It depends on the specific symptoms you’re experiencing. Speak with your doctor about your symptoms and take their guidance. You may also consider: