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Long COVID - Long-Term Effects of COVID-19

Published on Sep 16, 2020 and last reviewed on Sep 17, 2020   -  4 min read



Long COVID is a term used for patients who suffer from coronavirus symptoms even months after recovery. Read the article to know more.

Long COVID - Long-Term Effects of COVID-19

As the new Coronavirus infection continues to soar worldwide, it is quite evident that it is not another flu-like illness. With an increasing number of people reporting prolonged symptoms after recovering from COVID-19, this virus is affecting not only the lungs but also other body parts, including the heart and brain. Many patients continue to have a cough, throat irritation, and body weakness for weeks, even after fighting off the virus. Some of them even complain of heart problems, psychological distress, and brain fog. This is why it is crucial to follow social distancing, home quarantine, and isolation guidelines strictly. Instead of waiting for a vaccine or a drug to cure this infection, we must take all the precautions to keep us and others safe. Even if you do recover from COVID-19, are you really free of its effects?

What Does Long COVID Mean?

"Long COVID" is the term used for the effects of COVID-19 in people who experience symptoms weeks to months after the initial infection with SARS-CoV-2. Until now, scientists and doctors only talk about you getting infected mildly and recovering quickly, or getting severely sick and ending up in the ICU on oxygen support. And that most people with a mild infection get better in 2 weeks after the first symptom appears, and critically ill patients might take 6 weeks or more. But an increasing number of recovered patients are coming back to hospitals after weeks or months with symptoms, such as fatigue, heart palpitations, joint pain, dyspnea (shortness of breath), brain fog, loss of smell or taste or both, and heart, kidneys, brain, and lungs damage.

A new study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that 1 in every 10 COVID-19 recovered patients is at risk of developing long-term symptoms. In this study, the health of 100 recovered COVID-19 patients, of which 68 had mild COVID-19 infection, and the rest 32 had a severe infection, were examined to look for long-lasting symptoms and long-term consequences of the infection. Scientists found that 10 to 15 % of people, including some with mild infections, did not recover quickly from all symptoms and took months. Another study conducted in Italy showed that around 87.4 % of patients had at least one lingering symptom, mostly fatigue or shortness of breath.

With the infection just months old, we do not know what COVID patients have to endure in the future or if it will result in other chronic diseases.

Things That We Know So Far About COVID-19

We already know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus does not only affect the lungs and other respiratory organs, but can also result in blood clots, skin lesions, diarrhea, and other atypical symptoms. The spike protein on the surface of this new virus latches on the surface of ACE2 receptors, which are present in the cells' surface of lungs, digestive tract, heart, kidneys, nervous system, and blood vessels, making them vulnerable to the virus.

What Are the Lingering Symptoms of COVID-19?

The common signs and symptoms that persist are:

  1. Tiredness or Fatigue - People with COVID-19 are finding it hard to get back on their feet after recovery. With a long-lasting weakness for weeks and months, patients are experiencing muscle aches, palpitations, unbalanced energy levels, pins and needles pain, etc.

  2. Shortness of Breath - Also called dyspnea or breathlessness, is usually accompanied by chest pain in most. This is the second most common long-term effect of COVID-19. But, this is more common in people who were admitted to intensive care during the active phase. Shortness of breath can also indicate heart damage or scarring, which is also a long-term complication.

  3. Cough - Though fever and cough are among the first signs of COVID-19, many patients experience chronic dry or wet cough even after recovering.

  4. Joint Pain and Headaches - Along with a general feeling of tiredness or weakness, many patients continue to have joint pain, muscle aches, and headaches for weeks.

  5. A Racing Heart - As the heart muscles also have ACE2 receptors, the virus is believed to damage the heart muscles, resulting in scarring. This scarring can result in irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias.

  6. Hypertension - The virus targets the heart and blood vessels, resulting in high blood pressure, even in patients who were previously healthy and just had a mild COVID-19 infection.

  7. Post-Intensive Care Syndrome - Patients who were isolated and treated in the intensive care unit are showing symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The near-death experience, isolation, pain, sleep disturbances, and being bed-ridden are resulting in mental distress, memory decline, behavior problems, and other symptoms after recovery.

  8. Anxiety and Stress - Post-recovery patients are finding it hard to fight stress and anxiety. Patients are more likely to suffer from insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Organ Damage and COVID-19:

The new Coronavirus is believed to affect the following organs:

  1. Lungs - Pneumonia caused by COVID-19 can result in long-standing damage to the lungs' alveoli, which are small air sacs that help in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This damage results in scarring, which can cause long-term breathing difficulties.

  2. Heart - Even in people who experienced mild symptoms of COVID-19, heart images show damage to the heart muscle. The scarring of the heart muscles increases the risk of heart failure and other complications later in life.

  3. Brain - COVID-19 affects the brain and results in strokes, seizures, and temporary paralysis (Guillain-Barre syndrome). It may also make people susceptible to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

  4. Blood Vessel Damage - COVID-19 increases the risk of stroke and heart attack, as it is more likely to cause blood clots. Bigger clots can result in heart attacks and strokes, and smaller clots can damage tiny blood vessels in various organs, including the heart, lungs, liver, legs, and kidneys.

For all those people who think that the new Coronavirus will only result in severe symptoms in older adults and people with comorbidities, you might not have severe symptoms. However, you are still at risk of developing long-term organ damage and other health problems. There is still a lot to learn about COVID-19, and scientists are finding something new every day. Stop the spread by sticking to strict social distancing guidelines and wear a mask or cover your nose and mouth when social distancing cannot be maintained. Avoid venturing out unnecessarily, and stay home and safe as much as possible.


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Last reviewed at:
17 Sep 2020  -  4 min read


Dr. Anshul Varshney

Dr. Anshul Varshney

M.B.B.S, M.D. Medicine

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