While coronavirus symptoms may pass quickly for most, some people are suffering long-term effects. . This is sometimes called post-COVID-19 syndrome or "long COVID". We outline the symptoms of long Covid, and some tips to help manage them.
About long COVID
Long Covid is a term to describe the effects of Covid-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness. The health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) defines long Covid as lasting for more than 12 weeks, although some people consider symptoms that last more than eight weeks to be long Covid.
Researchers analysed data on people who reported their symptoms of long Covid on the COVID Symptom Study app and identified two main groups of symptoms. One is mainly respiratory related such as a cough and feeling breathless, but also includes fatigue and headaches. The second group of symptoms affects many parts of the body, including the heart, brain and the gut. In the study of 4,182 people, heart symptoms were commonly reported, such as palpitations or increased heartbeat, as well as pins and needles, numbness and ‘brain fog’.
How long it takes to recover from coronavirus is different for everybody. Many people feel better in a few days or weeks and most will make a full recovery within 12 weeks. But for some people, symptoms can last longer. The chances of having long-term symptoms do not seem to be linked to how ill you are when you first get coronavirus. People who had mild symptoms at first can still have long-term problems.
Symptoms of long COVID
There are lots of symptoms you can have after a coronavirus infection. Common long COVID symptoms include:
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- problems with memory and concentration ("brain fog")
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- joint pain
- depression and anxiety
- tinnitus, earaches
- feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
According to the UK Office for National Statistics, around one in ten recovered patients are experiencing post-viral symptoms like these at least three months later, following the worldwide spread of Covid-19. Many media reports and online support groups feature personal accounts of illness which carries on for much longer. Many Covid-19 patients needs rehabilitative treatment for respiratory, cardiac damage and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) which is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) caused by the virus.
How long does it take to recover from long Covid?
We are still learning how long the illness lasts and it can vary in different individuals. It’s important to note that this isn’t unique to Covid-19 – other viral illnesses can also have lasting effects. The study led by Leicester researchers described above suggests that among those who needed hospital treatment for the initial illness, it is common for it to last five months or more, and there are separate reports of it lasting 12 months or more (this includes both people who didn’t need hospital treatment initially and those who did.)
Who is most at risk of developing long Covid?
Researchers have analysed data from the COVID Symptom Study app to discover who is most at risk of developing long Covid. They found that older people, women, and those who had five or more symptoms in the first week of becoming ill with Covid-19 were more likely to develop long Covid.
They found that long Covid affects around ten per cent of 18-49 year olds who get Covid-19, increasing to 22 per cent of people over 70. The researchers also found people with asthma were also more likely to develop long Covid. This was the only clear link they found to existing health conditions in people who developed long Covid.
Researchers in Leicester followed up more than 1,000 people who had been admitted to hospital with Covid-19. In this study, the people who were most likely to be affected by long Covid tended to be White women aged 40 to 60 with two or more medical conditions such as a cardiovascular condition, asthma or type 2- diabetes. This is different from those who are most likely to need hospital treatment for Covid-19, who are more likely to be male and from an ethnic minority background.
Research on who is most at risk is in the early stages and different studies have so far produced different results regarding age as a risk factor. A smaller study led by the University of Glasgow with 327 adults who had been discharged from hospital found that younger ages (under 50) had the worst long-term outcomes following Covid-19. It also found that seven months after hospital treatment women under 50 were five times less likely than men of the same age to say they were fully recovered.
Can children get long Covid?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published data from the UK Coronavirus Infection Survey which looked at how many people showed symptoms five weeks after infection. The ONS described these as ‘experimental estimates’. The estimates suggested that almost 13 per cent of children in the survey aged between two and 11 and 14.5 per cent of children aged 12 to 16 reported certain symptoms including fatigue, cough, headache, muscle aches or loss of taste or smell five weeks after falling ill with Covid-19. It is important to bear in mind that ‘experimental estimates’ means the data are still being tested. The data was based on 9,063 respondents of all ages but it is unclear what proportion of these were children. However, it is clear that some children are affected by lingering symptoms following initial infection.
Contact us if:
You're worried about symptoms 4 weeks or more after having coronavirus
What happens at your appointment?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and the impact they're having on your life.
They may suggest some tests to find out more about your symptoms and rule out other things that could be causing them.
These might include:
- blood tests
- checking your blood pressure and heart rate
- a chest X-ray
Treatment and support
Your doctor will talk to you about the care and support you might need.
You may be given advice about how to manage and monitor your symptoms at home.
If the symptoms are having a big impact on your life, you may be referred to a specialist rehabilitation service or a service that specialises in the specific symptoms you have.
These services can help manage your symptoms and help you recover.
Source: Harley Street Healthcare Clinic; UK Office for National Statistics; NHS
Date : 21 April 2021