Do Covid-19 Infections Have Long-Term Health Effects?
In most moderate and mild Covid-19 cases, the illness persists for approximately 14 days. However, many patients can experience long-lasting health issues even after recovering from the acute stage of sickness. Covid-19 can cause significant damages to the brain, heart, and lungs. In such patients, there is no longer an active virus running in the body. If examined, those individuals would test negative for Covid-19, but they feel severely weakened post-recovery.
Individuals with major post-COVID illnesses are sometimes recognized as long haulers. Though it is still an emerging phenomenon, which is yet not fully understood. As of now, there is also no universally agreed-on definition of the same.
Long Covid covers a wide range of symptoms that may appear after initial Covid infection, that include fatigue, chest pain, cough, headaches, muscle pain etc. Other names for the said issue are long-term COVID or post-COVID syndrome. Director of the React programme at Imperial College London, Professor Paul Elliott, said their findings on the longer-term health consequences of Covid painted a concerning picture. He also said that “Long Covid is still poorly understood but we hope through our research that we can contribute to better identification and management of this condition, which our data and others’ suggest may ultimately affect millions of people.”
What causes Long COVID?
Post-COVID syndrome can attack the human body in many ways, causing failure of the liver, kidneys, nervous system, heart, lungs, and other organs. Mental health issues can also occur from post-traumatic stress disorder after undergoing treatment in the ICU, unresolved fatigue or pain, loss, and grief.
While it’s evident that individuals with specific risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other serious medical conditions are prone to have a severe case of Coronavirus, there isn’t any apparent connection between these long-term issues and risk factors. The post-COVID syndrome can also happen in individuals with mild symptoms.
Emily Brigham, a specialist in lung disease and critical care, explains, “We’re seeing a spectrum of symptoms after acute COVID-19, some of which would be expected after other critical illnesses. Some are minor, but other people may need continuing care and even readmission to the hospital.” She reveals that the same saying that lingering issues can affect sufferers with other severe diseases as well.
Long-term effects of COVID Infections
Individuals with serious health issues and older people are most likely to experience post-COVID-19 syndrome, but even healthy and young people can experience illness for weeks to months while recovering from the disease. Common symptoms and signs that increase over time are as follows.
- Unsteadiness when you stand
- Anxiety or depression
- Loss of taste or smell
- Pounding or fast heartbeat
- Headache or muscle pain
- Sleep, concentration, or memory problems
- Chest pain
- Joint pain
- Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
Organ damage caused by the Long COVID
Although COVID-19 is seen as an illness that mainly impacts the lungs, it can harm other organs as well. So, the organs that can be affected by Coronavirus are given below.
Cardiac imaging done in recovered Covid patients months after healing has shown persistent damage to their hearts. It is even seen in individuals who had only mild symptoms of Coronavirus.
Research reveals that 60% of recovered patients had symptoms of ongoing heart damage, which can cause familiar symptoms of rapid heartbeat, palpitations, and shortness of breath. This heart issue is even noticed in people who had no health problems before they contracted COVID-19.
A particular type of pneumonia is often noticed in patients who just tested negative for Coronavirus. It can cause long-term damage to their alveoli. A severe case of COVID-19 can create permanent issues and scars in the lungs. The scarred tissue can cause long-haul breathing issues, even in minor cases.
However, lung recovery after Coronavirus is not impossible, but it takes some time. According to health professionals, it can take a few months for an individual’s lung function to return to the pre-coronavirus phases. Respiratory therapy and breathing exercises can help to a great extent.
Coronavirus can cause seizures, brain strokes, and Guillain-Barre syndrome (a condition that makes an individual temporarily paralyzed). It may also increase the chance of acquiring Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disorders.
Some children and adults can experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome after their recovery from COVID-19. In this condition, some tissues and organs of the body become harshly inflamed and may be damaged permanently if not taken immediate care of.
- Blood vessel and blood clots issues
COVID-19 can make blood cells more likely to form clots and clump up. Though big clumps can cause strokes and heart attacks, much of the heart inflammation caused by Coronavirus is due to the formation of tiny clumps that block small blood vessels of the heart muscle.
Blood clots even affect other parts of the body such as kidneys, liver, limbs, and lungs. COVID-19 can also damage blood vessels and cause them to leak, leading to long-lasting issues.
- Problems with fatigue and mood
Individuals who have serious symptoms of COVID-19 often have to be kept in a health centre’s intensive care unit with mechanical aid such as ventilators. Simply bearing with this situation can make an individual more likely to acquire anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress syndrome eventually.
As it’s pretty hard to know the long-term effects of the novel Covid-19 virus, experts are now looking at the long-term impacts seen in similar other viruses, such as the infections caused due to SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Several individuals who have recovered from severe acute respiratory syndrome have gone on to acquire persistent fatigue syndrome, a complicated mental illness characterized by severe fatigue that worsens with mental or physical activity. The same may be applicable for recovered Covid-19 individuals.
The connection between diabetes and Coronavirus, particularly type-2 diabetes, is complicated. Type-2 diabetes is a threat factor for severe cases of COVID-19, and some patients suffering from COVID-19 seem to be acquiring type-2 diabetes symptoms in their post-recovery phase.
- Distorted or lost senses of taste and smell
The senses of taste and smell are connected. Now, as Covid-19 can influence cells in the nose, it can cause loss of taste or smell. Individuals contracting Coronavirus might completely lose their sense of taste or smell or discover that familiar things taste or smell different, strange, or bad.
For about a section of individuals suffering from COVID-19 who have one or both of these signs, the issue was resolved in about 14-20 days. But for most, these signs persisted for a long time. Though not potentially fatal, consistent distortion of these senses can be destructive and cause depression, anxiety, or lack of appetite. However, research shows that there’s a 60%-80% possibility that these individuals will notice improvement within a year.
Many long-term COVID-19 after-effects are still unfamiliar
Much is still unspecified about how Coronavirus will affect individuals over time, but studies are ongoing. Researchers suggest physicians closely monitor patients who have had Coronavirus to observe how their organs are functioning in the post-recovery phase.
Several medical centres are inaugurating specialized health units to facilitate good care to individuals who have persistent signs or similar illnesses, as stated above while recovering from COVID-19.
Some Frequently Asked Questions about Long COVID
Well, if you still have doubts and questions regarding the long-term health effects of COVID-19? Then, check out the following frequently asked questions, along with their corresponding answers. We hope it will clear your doubts.
- What is the treatment for long COVID-19?
Therapists and doctors can help you well to deal with the symptoms. Medications, physical therapy, breathing exercises, and other treatments can enable you to improve your health, but be ready for a slow recovery.
- How do I prevent long-term COVID-19?
The most effective way to prevent long-term COVID-19 complications is to prevent contracting COVID-19 in the first place. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine at the earliest and taking all safety measures are the best ways to keep yourself safe from this virus.
Knowing the seriousness of COVID-19 and its ability for a long-term impact on human health will encourage you to keep yourself and others safe by wearing masks properly and consistently whenever you are outside, practising careful hand hygiene, and maintaining a physical distance.
- When should I visit a doctor about my post-COVID-19 symptoms?
Post-COVID syndrome can have symptoms similar to other infections. So, it is crucial to visit your physician and know the actual reason behind these symptoms. Avoid ignoring insomnia, anxiety, depression, or loss of taste or smell. If you experience bluish lips, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, or any other serious symptom, visit your physician immediately, who will enable you to deal with these issues and improve the condition of your life.
It’s crucial to understand that most individuals who have COVID-19 recover rather quickly. But the long-lasting issues caused because of COVID-19 make it all the more crucial to decrease the transmission of COVID-19 by following all safety measures. Precautions include avoiding crowds, maintaining social distance, wearing masks, keeping hands clean, and getting your dose of the COVID-19 vaccine when available. Also, consult a doctor immediately if you face any after-effect in your COVID-19 recovery phase. Early diagnoses and the right treatment will help you get cured better and quicker.