COVID Symptoms That Worry Doctors Most
COVID-19 has been with us for over two years now, and doctors and scientists are still learning new things about the virus—including concerning symptoms that appear to be ongoing for many people. "Virtually every health professional I know believes that the pandemic in the U.S. could and should have been better controlled than it has been. Bad mistakes rarely lead to only temporary damage," says Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter. Here are five COVID-19 symptoms doctors are worried about. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Severe Sleep Issues
There is growing evidence that people with COVID-19 are dealing with ongoing sleep problems. "The patients we're seeing who are post-COVID have a variety of sleep problems that are common in the community," says Kingman Strohl, MD, who specializes in pulmonary and critical care medicine and sleep medicine at University Hospitals. "In recovery from a viral illness or critical illness, there is poor sleep and disruption of the sleep/wake cycle, and also stress and disruptions in activity levels. All these distract from good sleeping habits. People with a tendency for insomnia before COVID-19 often have more problems afterwards. The same drugs no longer work as well and some have developed bad habits. People with sleep apnea before COVID sometimes need adjustments in their therapy because they may develop sensitivity to the treatments, sleeplessness, circadian rhythm disorders and so forth."
Immune System Breakdown
Doctors are still investigating just why COVID-19 causes severe immune issues several months after recovery from the virus. "Some people's immune systems go haywire after Covid. We're trying to look at the similarities between chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and long Covid," says W. Michael Brode, medical director of the post-COVID program at UT Health Austin in Austin, Texas. "We've seen post-viral illnesses cause chronic fatigue, small fiber neuropathy, autonomic dysfunction. I think there's something probably specific to Covid, but we've never seen a virus on this scale in the modern era."
Breathing issues are a common symptom of COVID-19—but for some people, this goes on for months and can lead to serious health conditions. "It's not uncommon for patients who recover from the acute phase of COVID-19 to have continued respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain and coughing," says UH pulmonologist David Rosenberg, MD, MPH. "These symptoms may last weeks or months. But if they become worse, you may be developing a complication of COVID-19. The inflammation from COVID-19 can cause pneumonia throughout the lungs, even during the recovery phase. The blood can be sticky because of the inflammation, and you can develop blood clots. Also, the inflammation from COVID can irritate asthma. Because the heart and lungs are integrated, some COVID-19 patients with ongoing breathing problems are diagnosed with a heart problem. The virus can cause inflammation of the muscle of the heart or the pericardium, the membrane surrounding the heart. These problems can lead to shortness of breath. If you're developing worsening respiratory symptoms, you really need to seek medical attention."
"We also know there are strokes related to the clotting disorder from COVID-19," says neurologist Cathy Sila, MD, Director of the Stroke Center at the Neurological Institute at University Hospitals. "These can affect the arteries, causing paralysis, speech difficulties and difficulties walking. They can also affect the veins in the brain and cause brain swelling. That can lead to terrible headaches and difficulty doing daily activities. There are a number of infectious and immune-related complications that can affect the brain, the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. It's important to understand if it's the infection or immune response causing the problems, because they're treated differently."
Viral pneumonia is dangerous, because there are limited ways to treat it, compared to regular pneumonia. "Some patients with COVID-19 develop pneumonia," says Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H. "Viral pneumonia, including that caused by COVID-19, cannot be treated with antibiotics. Some severe cases of COVID-19 may require ventilator support to ensure the body is getting enough oxygen. Other medications, including antivirals, may also be administered. People over age 65 and those with certain health conditions are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia and may experience more severe cases of COVID-19. Studies show that in patients with COVID-19, pneumonia may progress into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can be fatal in some patients."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.