Sure Signs You're a Long Hauler, According to the CDC
As the experts tally the horrific number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, there remain many Americans uncounted: Those who suffer from the devastating effects of COVID long after it has left their bodies. They've been dubbed—for better or worse—"long haulers" and suffer from Post-COVID Syndrome, or Long COVID. 10% or more of those who get the virus—even a mild case—may suffer for a lifetime. "As the pandemic unfolds, we are learning that many organs besides the lungs are affected by COVID-19 and there are many ways the infection can affect someone's health," says the CDC. "While most persons with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients can have symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness." Read on to see the most common long-hauler symptoms, according to the CDC—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss the full list of the Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
First of All, Who Could Be a Long-Hauler? Just Old People? Anyone?
The answer is, it can happen to anyone, and it is happening to anyone. "Even people who are not hospitalized and who have mild illness can experience persistent or late symptoms," says the CDC. There are multiple reports of people in their 30s and 40s, formerly healthy, who have been laid low. The most commonly reported long-term symptoms, according to the CDC, include the following.
You May Feel Fatigue
Fatigue is the hallmark symptom of Post-COVID Syndrome. This is no ordinary sleepiness. Sufferers have called it being "hit by a truck," "debilitating," and some former go-getters cannot even get out of bed, and feel their bodies crashing 24 hours after doing the dishes. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said Post-COVID syndrome is "highly suggestive of chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis." The main symptom of CFS/ME is, of course, crushing fatigue—and also some of the symptoms you'll read about next.
You May Feel Shortness of Breath
Because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, it's not surprising many have difficulty breathing afterwards. "One of my patients, a 55-year-old male essential worker, contracted COVID-19 three months ago, resulting in respiratory problems for which he was hospitalized," Rabih Bechara, M.D., a professor of medicine within the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Augusta University and Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, told the American Lung Association. "He received the FDA-approved standardized therapy during his acute phase, including supplemental oxygen. Luckily, he did well and was discharged from the hospital after two weeks." However: "Since his discharge, he still complains of difficulty breathing with moderate exertion, changes in smell (many food items have a bad smell, especially spicy ones), and has a daily dry cough. These symptoms were not present prior to his COVID-19 bout."
You May Develop a Cough
A COVID cough is often a dry cough and can continue for months for some. "Ever since he contracted the coronavirus in mid-March, Jake Elsas, 53, has spent every waking moment feeling like he's had the worst sleep of his life," reports Next Avenue. "On top of brain fog, Elsas suffers from what he describes as a 'perfect storm of coughing, sweating and debilitating fatigue,' now accompanied by ringing in his ears, or tinnitus" among other issues.
You May Have Joint Pain
Arthralgia (joint pain) is a common symptom of coronavirus and a study published in the Nature Public Health Emergency Collection found that at least one patient in the 40 that were studied experienced joint pain. This joint ailment may linger in those who had the virus, causing hand or wrist pain to remain.
You May Have Chest Pain
This could be a lung issue, a heart issue or an inflammation issue. "In the study of Italian patients, the most common symptoms reported at follow-up were fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain, and chest pain, in that order. None of the patients had a fever or other sign or symptom of acute illness, but about 44% of them had a worsened quality of life," reports JAMA Network.
You May Have "Brain Fog"
The CDC calls this "difficulty with thinking and concentration" and Dr. Fauci calls it "difficulty concentrating." "At this point, it seems like a third of patients will have some type of neurological illness associated with COVID-19. But this includes a spectrum of issues: memory issues, brain fog, seizures, strokes, and neuropathy (or numbness in the extremities, usually hands and feet). We don't have solid evidence yet that this is the exact percentage of COVID-19 patients who will experience brain fog," Omar Danoun, M.D., a neurologist with Henry Ford Health System, tells his hospital.
You May Suffer Depression
"Even people who were never sick enough to go to a hospital, much less lie in an ICU bed with a ventilator, report feeling something as ill-defined as 'Covid fog' or as frightening as numbed limbs," reports STAT News. "They're unable to carry on with their lives, exhausted by crossing the street, fumbling for words, or laid low by depression, anxiety, or PTSD. As many as 1 in 3 patients recovering from Covid-19 could experience neurological or psychological after-effects of their infections, experts told STAT, reflecting a growing consensus that the disease can have lasting impact on the brain."
You May Have Muscle Pain
You might remember talk show host Ellen DeGeneres complained of "excruciating" back pain during her bout with COVID-19. For many Long COVID patients, this "myalgia"—an inflammation of tissues and tendons—can happen to any part of the body.
You May Get a Headache
COVID can affect your brain in many ways, resulting in jackhammer headaches and migraines. "The virus travels to the lungs and, later, enters the bloodstream, which generates systemic inflammation that may turn into a cytokine storm. Research shows identified cortical hyperintensities and olfactory bulb hyperintensities in patients with COVID-19, suggesting that the virus directly infects the central nervous system," reports Optometry Times.
You May Have an Intermittent Fever
Temperature fluctuations were seen as an immune response in one new long hauler study. Some had high temperatures, some had low.
You May Have a Fast-Beating or Pounding Heart
"…also known as heart palpitations," says the CDC. "Blood pressure may drop or spike, causing further stress on the heart, and the resulting increase in oxygen demand can lead to heart damage, especially if the heart arteries or muscle were unhealthy to begin with," reports Harvard Health.
You May Experience More Serious Long-Term Complications
These "appear to be less common but have been reported," according to the CDC. "These have been noted to affect different organ systems in the body. These include:
- Cardiovascular: inflammation of the heart muscle
- Respiratory: lung function abnormalities
- Renal: acute kidney injury
- Dermatologic: rash, hair loss
- Neurological: smell and taste problems, sleep issues, difficulty with concentration, memory problems
- Psychiatric: depression, anxiety, changes in mood"
What to Do If You Experience These Symptoms
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned here, contact a medical professional to discuss long-term care. Don't be surprised if they are not familiar with Post-COVID Syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis—this is all still new to many doctors. You and your doctor will need to work together to educate one another about what you're feeling. And to ensure you haven't missed anything, don't miss the full list of the Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.