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Early Signs You Have Long COVID, According to Doctors

Post-COVID Syndrome can ruin lives. Knowing the symptoms can help you or someone you love.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Some people die from coronavirus. Others feel fine after recovery. But about 10% survive and are left with a series of debilitating symptoms, according to some estimates. These people, dubbed "long haulers," suffer from the mysterious, potentially life-ruining Post-COVID Syndrome, a.k.a. Long COVID. "This condition can affect anyone—old and young, otherwise healthy people and those battling other conditions. It has been seen in those who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and patients with very mild symptoms," say the experts at UC Davis Health. "The most common long hauler symptoms include the following," they say—read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus


You May Have Ongoing, Sometimes Debilitating, Fatigue

Woman touching forehead

"Brain fog, fatigue, and difficulty in concentrating," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said earlier this year at the International AIDS Conference. "This is something we really need to seriously look at because it very well might be a post-viral syndrome associated with COVID-19." He called long-hauler symptoms "highly suggestive" of myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a collection of symptoms that include, yes, fatigue, but also cognitive dysfunction and "post-exertional malaise." Even minimal activity can leave sufferers feeling like they've been hit by a truck.


You May Have Body Aches

Mature man with gray hair having back pain while sitting on a couch at home

Dr. Fauci warns that "myalgia"—defined as "muscle pains, aches, and pain associated with ligaments, tendons, and the soft tissues that connect bones, organs, and muscles" by Southern Pain and Neurological—is a hallmark of Post-COVID Syndrome. They can appear anywhere on your body.


You May Have Joint Pain

Man sore holding wrist

"Common symptoms of long-haul syndrome include overwhelming fatigue, breathlessness during mild activities, joint pain, chest pain, racing or palpitating heart, difficulty concentrating, short term memory loss, and persistent loss of smell," reports Chicago Health. "Some report mental health symptoms, including chronic stress. Many are unable to return to jobs or the active lives to which they had been accustomed."


You May Have Shortness of Breath

Young woman feeling sick and having chest pain while coughing at home.

NPR tells of "Dr. Scott Krakower, a 40-year-old psychiatrist from New York who had chills and fever for nearly two weeks in April before testing positive." Four months afterwards, he still had shortness of breath: "I try to think, 'OK, I'm ready to go back to work and things like that,'" Krakower says. "And then my friends and my colleagues who are in the medical field, I think just listening to me try to talk to explain why I should even do something, I think that they were like, 'Scott, come on. You can't even basically hold a conversation still at times.'"


You May Have a Loss of Taste and Smell

"…even if this didn't occur during the height of illness," says UC Health, it might appear. It's one of the most distinctive signs of COVID-19 and Post-COVID Syndrome. "Besides the persistent cough, which can also occur with other viruses, loss of taste and smell lingers for many long haulers," says a report in JAMA.


You May Have Difficulty Sleeping

hispanic woman at home bedroom lying in bed late at night trying to sleep suffering insomnia sleeping disorder or scared on nightmares looking sad worried and stressed

Because COVID-19 can mess with your neurological system, experts hypothesize it can cause vivid dreams and nightmares and irregular sleep patterns. The virus's attack on your respiratory system can also lead to difficulty sleeping. "Even to this day, I still have some anxiety about sleeping," Patrick Hobart, a 41-year-old web developer, told TODAY. "While I'm lying down, I get this involuntary gasp for air… all of a sudden, it's like my body shoves air down my throat."


You May Have Coughing

woman with cold, working on laptop computer, coughing and sneezing

"Long-haulers may have a lasting cough," according to UC Davis. "Some patients may have one of these symptoms and some will have a combination," Christian Sandrock, a UC Davis Health professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine, said. "We just don't know why yet."


You May Have Headaches

Sick woman sitting on couch wrapped in blanket

A post-COVID headache can be relentlessly crushing. "There are days where I do nothing and just can't get outta bed. The migraines. They are like ten times worse than a flu headache, pains, like muscular issues," Sadie Nagamootoo, a 44-year-old personal trainer, told 60 Minutes. "And there are some times where my hands feel like they have pins and needles and I have to stop using them because I can't feel anything." Also on the show, Dr. Dayna McCarthy of Mount Sinai's Post-COVID care center, said she has the Syndrome herself. Due to the effort put into appearing on TV and in other meetings, she said: "I will have probably the most excruciating headache. And I will just take some Tylenol and curl up in a ball and go to sleep and hope I feel better tomorrow."


You May Have Brain Fog

"Brain fog is among the most confusing symptoms for long haulers," reports UC Davis. "Patients report being unusually forgetful, confused or unable to concentrate even enough to watch TV. This can happen to people who were in an intensive care unit for a while, but it's relatively rare. However, it is happening to a variety of patients, including those who weren't hospitalized."


What to Do If You Have These Symptoms

medicine doctor wearing face mask and blue scrubs standing corporate in health care work concept

"The list of long hauler symptoms is long, wide and inconsistent," says UC Davis. (In fact, see here for 98 Symptoms Coronavirus Patients Say They've Had.) "The reasons why long-haulers feel the way they do is a mystery that's currently being untangled. "One common theory about patients with long-term COVID-19 symptoms is that the virus possibly remains in their bodies in some small form," says UC Davis. "Another theory is their immune systems continue to overreact even though the infection has passed." If you experience the symptoms, even if you never received a positive COVID-19 test, contact a medical professional. 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.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more