Long-term COVID-19 symptoms: What you need to know
Posted: JAN 17, 2022
If you’ve had any new or lasting symptoms since recovering from COVID-19, you may have what doctors call “post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC),” or “post-COVID conditions.” Also known as “long COVID,” it can include a range of symptoms that continue after the initial COVID-19 illness ends.
How do you know if you have long-term COVID-19?
Long-term COVID-19 symptoms can vary. They may come and go, range from mild to severe, and affect any number of areas of the body. Since the virus was only found in the last couple of years, we’re still learning about all the symptoms, who’s more likely to get them, and how long they’ll last. A review of 57 studies found that more than half of people with long-term COVID-19 still have at least one symptom 6 months after their original illness.*
“Because it’s a new syndrome, and it’s been studied all over the world, gathering a complete list of all applicable symptoms can be difficult,” says Paul Thottingal, MD, a national infectious disease leader for Kaiser Permanente. “We are still learning about the long-term risks, but we do know people can have PASC symptoms regardless of age, initial symptoms of illness, or co-occurring illnesses.”
If you have symptoms but aren’t sure whether you have long-term COVID-19, talk with your doctor.
What are the symptoms of long-term COVID-19?
The most commonly reported symptoms are fatigue, trouble focusing (also known as “brain fog”), joint pain, headaches, and muscle aches. But your symptoms may depend on health problems you’ve had in the past. For example, if you’ve had depression, anxiety, or other mental or emotional issues, long-term COVID-19 can make them worse.*
Other common long COVID-19 symptoms can involve:
- Brain health: Difficulty concentrating, memory loss or forgetfulness, headache and pain, sensitivity, or numbness from nerve damage
- Mental health: Anxiety, trouble sleeping, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and survivor’s guilt
- Lung health: Shortness of breath, cough, and increased need for oxygen
- Movement: General weakness, poor mobility, lower exercise tolerance, and muscle or joint pain
- Heart health: Chest pain and palpitations
- Digestion, skin, ear, nose, and throat health (less common): Abdominal pain, poor appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, hair loss, skin rash, loss of smell or taste, swelling and discoloration of the toes (“COVID toes”), and sore throat
“We also expect that it will likely be months before we know the burden of associated conditions like multisystem inflammatory syndrome, whether in children (MIS-C) or adults (MIS-A),” continues Dr. Thottingal. “There are a lot of individuals who were not tested for it but are suffering acutely, and as we learn about those cases, the numbers on record will only go up.”
If you’ve already had COVID-19, and have any of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor. Based on your needs, they may recommend medical treatment, self-care, counseling, physical therapy, or a combination of treatments.
Can you prevent long-term COVID-19?
Because experts don’t yet know how to prevent long-term COVID-19, the best way to stay healthy is to protect yourself against COVID-19 infection. Get vaccinated (including booster shots), wash your hands often, wear a mask in public spaces, and keep your immune system strong. You can do this by getting enough sleep, staying active, and eating healthy. And if you haven’t already, be sure to get your flu shot.
*“Short-term and Long-term Rates of Postacute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection: A Systematic Review,” JAMA Network, October 13, 2021.