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Long Covid – the long-term effects of coronavirus

  • Jun 03, 2021
  • Medical Conditions

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At the end of 2019, a new virus was discovered in China which soon spread globally, becoming a pandemic that affected more than 170 million people so far, out of which more than 3.5 million lost their lives due to the virus. Officially, the virus is called SARS-CoV-2 but it is commonly known as coronavirus, Covid-19 or Covid.

How does Covid affect sufferers?

Covid can affect people differently, depending on their age, gender and pre-existing health conditions. Once the virus enters the body, it attacks the cells in the lungs. At this point, the immune system will start to fight off the virus. The time it takes for this process to happen can vary, but in some people, particularly the elderly and those with other health conditions, the immune system can start killing healthy cells in the body too, which can lead to serious health complications and even death.

How long does it take for people to recover from Covid?

Until not long ago, a linear progression in people recovering from Covid was assumed lasting between a few days and 12 weeks. But recently, new evidence and patient testimonies show an increasing number of people who still experience symptoms months after catching the virus. This has become known as Long Covid.

What is Long Covid?

Long Covid refers to the signs and symptoms someone infected with Covid-19 experiences that last longer than 4 weeks after their initial infection. Long Covid can affect the whole body and the mental health of the patient and the symptoms can be wide-ranging and fluctuating over time. There are two stages that are referred to as Long Covid:

  1. Ongoing symptomatic Covid (with symptoms lasting 4 to 12 weeks)
  2. Post-Covid syndrome (with symptoms that last for more than 12 weeks)

How many people get Long Covid?

As Long Covid is a new disease, the prevalence is unclear. At the beginning of March 2021, 1.1 million people in the UK reported having Long Covid. However, this number is likely to be higher.

What are the symptoms of Long Covid?

The list of possible Long Covid symptoms is long and they can vary from person to person. For some, it can seem that the symptoms are improving at times and then getting worse again. Sometimes, the symptoms can appear in clusters and patterns, however research about this is still ongoing.

Some of the most common Long Covid symptoms include:

  • breathlessness
  • chronic fatigue
  • chest pain or tightness
  • insomnia
  • depression and anxiety
  • heart palpitations
  • diarrhoea and stomach aches
  • pins and needles
  • difficulty concentrating
  • high temperature, coughs, headaches, sore throat
  • changes to the sense of smell or taste
  • muscle and joint pain
  • rashes

In addition to the physical and mental symptoms of Long Covid, individuals and families might also struggle with some wider social consequences of Long Covid. Qualitative research reported a heavy sense of loss, guilt and stigma among sufferers. Moreover, many patients’ day-to-day lives have been affected including their ability to work and care for their dependents and some people even require ongoing medical monitoring.

How long does it take to recover from Long Covid?

We don’t know yet how quickly people recover from Long Covid. In recent studies, some people even reported having symptoms for over a year. While further research is needed, the evidence so far clearly indicates that Long Covid can have significant long-term effects for some.

Who is most at risk of developing Long Covid?

According to the NHS, the risk of developing Long Covid doesn’t seem to be linked to how bad your symptoms were when you first got Covid-19 and people who had mild symptoms can still have long-term effects. Among the people who self-reported Long Covid in a recent survey, the majority were aged 36 to 69 years old, females, living in deprived areas, working in health and social care and with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.

How is Long Covid treated?

If you are experiencing any symptoms four weeks or more after having Covid, speak to your GP as soon as possible. The NHS recommends the following ways to contact your GP safely during the pandemic:

If your GP thinks it’s necessary, you might be asked to take some tests such as blood tests, blood pressure reading, blood rate and chest X-rays. Depending on the level of care you need, you might be given advice on how to manage and monitor your symptoms at home or you might be referred to a specialist such as a rehabilitation service. If you’ve been previously hospitalised due to Covid, you will most likely be invited for a follow up appointment whether or not you still have symptoms.

Although there is no specific treatment for Long Covid and we are facing a pressing need for more research in its causes, treatment and management, there are positive signs that people are able to manage Long Covid symptoms with online help, peer support, complementary therapies and formal health care. People have also reported that the Covid vaccine has helped to alleviate Long Covid symptoms, although there isn’t enough evidence to confirm this yet.

The NHS has officially launched a new online platform to people recovering from Covid. The service provides a tailored rehabilitation programme as well as general information to help people back to health including physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing advice. For more information on how to manage specific symptoms of Long Covid, here is some advice from the British Lung Foundation.

 

There is still much to learn about Covid-19 and its long-term health impacts, including Long Covid and the wider implications for sufferers and the society. In the meantime, if you are experiencing any symptoms four weeks or more after having Covid, speak to your GP as soon as possible.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.