Understanding ‘Long Covid’ and its impact

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Researchers across the world are actively investigating the long-term effects of Covid-19. It is said that even after the Covid-19 patient has completely recovered from the infection, there are possibilities of lingering symptoms to appear and cause further serious illness for weeks or months after the original diagnosis. Experts are continuously learning why and how some people experience post-COVID conditions even after full recovery.

One research conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine states that COVID-19 survivors including those mildly affected have an increased risk of death in the six months following diagnosis with the virus.

While we continue to fight against the deadly waves of the pandemic, it’s also important to note that the long-term effects of Covid-19 may have serious implications on the normal functioning of the world for the coming years.

Signs and Symptoms of Long-term Covid Conditions

Long-term effects of Covid-19, also known as Long Covid, generally persist four weeks after the initial diagnosis.

Older people or those with serious illness may experience these long-term effects however the latest data shows that even children from the ages of 5 to 14 are falling victims to such conditions. Some common signs and symptoms are:

• Tiredness or fatigue

• Fever

• Cough

• Fast-beating or pounding heart

• Difficulty concentrating

• Headache

• Loss of smell or taste

• Dizziness on standing

• Chest pain

• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

• Joint or muscle pain

• Depression or anxiety

WHO Guidance

Information and statistics shared by WHO related to the long-term effects of Covid-19:

1. Multiple reports show that many people do not regain their previous health following COVID-19.

2. Preliminary results from a nationally representative sample survey by the UK Office for National Statistics estimate that around 1 in 10 respondents testing positive for COVID-19 may exhibit symptoms for a period of 12 weeks or longer.

3. Certain studies indicate that around 1/3rd of people testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 had not returned to their usual state.

4. One recent study found that 30% of COVID-19 patients surveyed still had persistent symptoms after 9 months.

5. The majority of patients surveyed (85%) were outpatients with mild illnesses.

6. Patients that are admitted to intensive care units may experience post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) which are health problems that remain after critical illness.

What Long Covid means for your body

1. Multiorgan effects

Heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain functions can be compromised due to long Covid. Others such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) and autoimmune conditions are also said to be the effects. MIS is a condition where different body parts become swollen. Autoimmune conditions happen when your immune system deteriorates the health of all the cells in your body.

2. Lung Damage

COVID-19 can cause long-standing damage to the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs that results in something known as “lung scarring”. These are scars in tissues that restrict the oxygen supply to the bloodstream and may exist in anyone from mildly to severely affected Covid patients. 

Nearly 20% of patients discharged from hospital have damaged lungs.

Long-term symptoms of lung damage include:

• Breathlessness

• Coughing

• Fatigue

• Limited ability to exercise

• Lung scarring

A study called the UK Interstitial Lung Disease Long-COVID19 (UKILD-Long COVID) study will investigate whether lung damage persists long after the recovery of Covid-19 infection. The experts are working towards understanding how long these damages may persist and the type of relevant treatments that may be needed.

3. Blood clots

Not necessarily classified as one of the effects of long covid, blood clots have recently been known to pose a serious side-effect in Covid-19 patients. Blood clots caused by Covid are said to affect every part of the body such as the lungs, legs, liver, and kidneys by forming small clots that block blood vessels in the heart muscle. Weak blood vessels also contribute to potentially long-lasting effects on the liver and kidneys.

4. Mental Health

Steven Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics, and professor in psychiatry at the University of British Columbia states, “for an unfortunate minority of people, perhaps 10 to 15%, life will not return to normal”, due to the impact of the pandemic on their mental health.

According to public health specialists in the UK said that “the mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to last much longer than the physical health impact”.

Other effects of long covid include:

• Persistent cough, shortness of breath

• Stroke, headaches, memory problems

• Diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol.

• Gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux

• Skin rash and hair loss.

Treatments for post-Covid conditions

General Treatment

Should you experience any long-lasting symptoms much after your recovery from Covid-19, immediately reach out to your physician who’ll suggest a round of routine tests to learn more about your condition. Tests may include blood, blood pressure, heart rate check, chest X-ray, etc.

Your doctor will talk to you about the care and support you might need and may advise on how you can manage your symptoms at home. If needed, you may be referred to a specialist depending upon your condition.

Post-COVID clinics

These clinics are primarily set up in the US and other places to address post-Covid issues in patients to combat psychological stress, rebuild muscle strength, and provide therapy for patients who’ve spent time in hospitals. Similarly, an increasing number of providers are also establishing clinics for long COVID.

Online Applications

With the advent of technology, especially in telemedicine, patients now can access high-quality health care while sitting in the comfort of their homes. Some organizations have taken advantage of this feature and gone a step ahead to provide information and guidance for those recovering from Covid-19. This will be useful to patients who may suffer from long covid.

Support groups

Online support groups give the much-needed assurance to people and let them know that they’re not alone during these trying times, whether they are newly infected or recovering from the infection with a few newly emerging symptoms.

So much is still unknown about how COVID-19 affects people over time. A lot more research and multi-year studies are needed to understand: long-term effects, symptoms, recovery, treatments, implications on return to work, etc.

The best way to avoid the long-term effects of Covid-19 is by preventing Covid-19. These include wearing the face mask properly, using hand sanitizer, maintaining social distancing, sneezing and coughing on the elbows, and staying indoors as much as possible.

Albot Health

Albot Health

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