Why are some COVID-19 patients still sick months or years after initial infection?
Long COVID or long-haulers COVID is what some are calling lingering symptoms long after the initial infection.
Long COVID basics
Doctors at UT Health Austin are working on finding answers and treatment for long COVID. Dr. W. Michael Brode, the medical director of the post-COVID-19 program, says that they have learned a lot. Read more here.
There are three categories of people who typically have lingering symptoms of COVID-19:
- People who were hospitalized and on a ventilator and recovering from a serious illness. Usually symptoms will stop within six months to a year.
- Lingering cough can last for three to six months, as can cough with other illnesses.
- COVID-19 infection triggering a new disease, referred to as long COVID or post-COVID-19 or long-haulers COVID. Usually, these people were not hospitalized, but now have a disruption in their autonomic nervous system.
The third group of people is where the medical community still has some figuring out to do.
Who can get long COVID?
Although long COVID can happen to anyone, there are some definite groups it seems to target. Otherwise healthy women in their 30s and 40s; men in their 40s and 50s; and teenagers seem to be the big targets.
Common complaints of those with long COVID include chronic fatigue and brain fog. Shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, dizziness because of changes in blood pressure, problems with digestion, trouble regulating their body temperature and difficulty sleeping are also among the top symptoms.
Post-exertional malaise is common in long COVID as well. Basically it means that your symptoms get worse after physical or mental activity.
New food allergies, sensitivities, rashes, and new or heightened anxieties are also symptoms.
Long COVID on your body
Long COVID is the body’s reaction to the COVID-19 virus. This disease invades your whole body. The vasculature is where COVID-19 is happening, that is the body’s arrangement of blood vessels.
With COVID-19 being a new disease, the body is still learning to recognize it and take appropriate action.
Those who suffer from long COVID do not have damaged lungs or damaged hearts, like some who had severe COVID-19 and were hospitalized.
Long COVID tricks the autonomic nervous system to think there is a problem with the heart or lungs, even when there isn’t. This means your body is sending signals to react to the virus, when there is no need.
Omicron and long COVID
The program in Austin that is working with long COVID patients, said it is too early to work with those who have been infected with Omicron. Currently, the program is working with people who were infected in the first three waves, through the delta variant.
The center usually starts working with people who have had symptoms for at least three months.
Brode is hopeful that there will be less long COVID with Omicron, because more people have been vaccinated. Vaccination tends to reduce the symptoms of the virus.
Long COVID treatment
Doctors were first trying to treat long COVID symptom by symptom. Now they are beginning to use treatments that have been successful for chronic fatigue syndrome.
Physical therapy and mental therapy are both being used for long COVID treatment. Other therapies used are for specific symptom treatment.
Lingering symptoms or long COVID?
Roughly four to twelve weeks after the initial infection most lingering symptoms will subside. If symptoms do not improve, worsen, or you have new symptoms, contact your doctor.
Treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medications and stay hydrated.
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