For a small group of people, often referred to as “long haulers,” fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety and depression can persist for months and can range from mild to incapacitating.
“Informally, we call this condition ‘long COVID,’ or more formally post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said Dr. Emily Link, physician at Penn State Health Cocoa Outpatient Center. “It’s characterized by symptoms that develop during or after COVID-19, that last 12 or more weeks and that don’t have another cause such as injury or permanent damage to organs.”
How common is long haulers?
Some studies suggest symptoms persist in up to 50 percent of cases, but another recent study suggests only 2.5% of people have symptoms that persist beyond 12 weeks. “However, since more than 30 million people have had COVID-19, that’s still nearly three-quarters of a million people potentially dealing with this,” Link said.
Who is most susceptible to becoming a long hauler?
Doctors say those who had more severe cases of the virus, older people, women and people with underlying asthma are more likely to develop long COVID. The sicker you are, for example, the more prone you’ll be to inflammation of the heart muscle.
When should I call my doctor about ongoing symptoms?
That depends on the frequency and intensity of your symptoms, Farbaniec said. “A sharp pain with breathing could be because of inflammation of the coating of the lungs or the heart – remnants of the stress of your body’s inflammatory response to COVID,” he said. “On the other hand, tightness or pressure in the chest that gets better when resting could suggest a heart issue like decreased blood flow to the heart muscle.”
Given that COVID can affect many different body systems, it’s best to address symptoms in a multidisciplinary fashion, Guck said. “For example, persistent labored breathing could indicate the need to see a pulmonologist for acute inflammation of the lungs, or persistent weakness could indicate COVID-related inflammatory muscle weakness that a rheumatologist could manage,” he said.
What types of things can I do to ease symptoms?
Treatment is very individualized, but inhalers, fatigue management techniques, reconditioning exercises and adequate rest may help, Link said. Washington finds relief with inhalers for breathing better, pacing herself for stamina and anti-depressants for managing her mental health.
“For many people, it will be a prolonged recovery,” Link said. “But the good news is that the vast majority of people do improve and get back to their pre-COVID selves.”
Source: Penn State Health