Long COVID: What You Need to Know
Long COVID, also known as Post-COVID Conditions (PCC), refers to the long-term effects experienced by some individuals after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Long COVID or PCC is a broad term that includes the ongoing signs, symptoms, and conditions that develop or continue even after the initial COVID-19 infection. These effects can last for weeks, months, or even years.
What is Long COVID
Long COVID or PCC is when individuals experience persistent COVID-19 symptoms for more than 12 weeks after the initial infection.
It's possible to experience symptoms of long COVID even if you weren't formally tested or diagnosed with COVID-19. Additionally, although long COVID is more common in individuals who had a severe case of COVID-19, anyone who has been infected with the virus can experience it.
Each time a person is infected or reinfected, there is a risk of developing long COVID. It's been found that people who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19 and get the virus may be at a higher risk of developing long COVID compared to vaccinated individuals.
It's important to note that long COVID is NOT the same thing as COVID-19. Most people with COVID-19 recover within a few days to a few weeks after their infection. So, long COVID is typically identified at least 4 weeks after the initial infection and it involves a wide range of health problems that the individual may experience after their initial infection.
Currently, there isn't a specific test that can determine if your symptoms and condition are because of COVID-19, and long COVID is a collection of symptoms rather than a single illness. Therefore, as of now, healthcare professionals diagnose long COVID based on the individual's health history and whether they had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
Current research suggests that certain individuals appear to be at a greater risk of developing long Covid. These groups of individuals include women, people with severe COVID-19 illnesses, and those who have underlying chronic conditions.
Signs and Symptoms
Long COVID symptoms can vary from person to person, and over 100 different symptoms have been reported. Among adults, some of the commonly experienced symptoms are:
- Fatigue and persistent feelings of tiredness
- Difficulties with sleeping or staying asleep and disrupted sleep patterns
- Respiratory and heart symptoms such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, and heart palpitations
- Cognitive problems such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating
- Mental health symptoms such as experiencing depression and anxiety
- Feeling dizzy when standing up
- Digestive problems such as diarrhea and stomach pain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Changes in menstrual cycles
- Changes in smell and taste
For preventative measures against long COVID, it's suggested that individuals take measures to prevent being infected by COVID-19 in the first place by staying home when feeling sick, wearing masks, and improving their ventilation indoors. Being vaccinated against COVID-19 is another effective way for protection against severe COVID-19 illnesses and a smaller chance of experiencing long COVID.
Mental health and Long COVID
Experiencing psychological distress such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and difficulty concentrating are symptoms of long COVID. Although the exact cause of these symptoms are not yet fully understood, there are some possibilities.
One possibility for these mental health symptoms is that COVID-19 may have a direct influence on the body's organs such as the brain and immune system. Another possibility is that the traumatic experience of severe COVID-19 symptoms may lead to a condition called post-intensive care syndrome, causing cognitive problems, weakness, and PTSD. Another explanation is that these mental health symptoms arise due to the frustration and despair caused by chronic fatigue and long-term breathing problems with no clear resolution.
Psychological distress is not only a symptom but also a risk factor for long COVID. Research shows that people with a history of psychological disorders are more likely to experience long COVID. Psychological factors have been found to influence individuals' perceptions of symptoms which can trigger persistent symptoms in long COVID. In contrast, higher levels of resilience have been found to be associated with less severity of long COVID.
If you're experiencing psychological distress, seeking therapy and treatment can be very beneficial to your well-being, improving both your mental and physical health. With the right guidance, treatment, and coping strategies, you may increase your chances of preventing the onset of severe long COVID symptoms.
Researchers are still studying long COVID to understand it better and examine whether there is a certain group of individuals affected by COVID-19 who are at higher risks of developing long COVID.
If you're experiencing prolonged symptoms after a COVID-19 infection, please consult with your healthcare provider. They will be able to provide you appropriate guidance based on a thorough assessment of your condition and your medical history.