Sure Signs of "Long COVID," Say Experts
Long COVID is again in the news, partly because last month, the Biden administration announced that Long COVID would officially qualify as a disability subject to protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act. But it's largely because many Americans are suffering from the debilitating chronic condition, in which COVID symptoms don't go away after the virus has cleared the body. On WNYC's The Takeaway this week, host Melissa Harris-Perry asked people with Long COVID to call in and talk about their symptoms. She also spoke with an infectious-disease expert behind an illuminating study on the risks and manifestations of Long COVID. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Long COVID may scramble your brain, making it difficult to concentrate or remember things. "The announcement was really validating, but it's about a year too short for me," said one woman who lost her job after experiencing "20 different symptoms" of Long COVID. "Right now my brain is slowing down, so I have to pretty much do one thing at a time. It's hard for me to multitask."
Lingering Loss of Taste or Smell
"I haven't gotten my taste or smell back since October," said Linda, a woman who said she was in her early thirties. "I've had high blood pressure to the point that I've had to be medicated."
"My wife and I had COVID in the summer of 2020. I only had it for about four days, but the cough never quite went away," said Tom from Sacramento, California. "Even months later, I would have a cough, and all of a sudden I had to spit or swallow. And it never went away. I didn't have that before. It's only just now clearing up. It still happens now and then."
Signs Can Be Diverse, Expert Says
"Long COVID is a very complicated syndrome. It can affect many parts of the body and it likely has many different causes," said Dr. Jason Goldman, an infectious disease clinician and researcher at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and lead clinical author of a recent study on Long COVID risk factors. "Some of these causes are things like tissue damage, inflammation or autoimmunity, persistence of the virus or viral antigen, or even psychosocial factors."
Because the causes and effects are so varied, so are recovery times, said Goldman. "There's a lot of patients that have the persistent fatigue or brain fog. Thankfully, those things seem to go away in the majority of patients. But there's other patients who might have permanent tissue damage—for instance, some of the breathing problems that might develop after COVID. I'm thinking of one of my patients who had smoking-related lung disease before COVID, but it was mild. After COVID, he never really got off oxygen. That's likely to be permanent for that patient."
"I think there's going to be a range" in Long COVID severity, he concluded. The CDC lists these symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities (also known as post-exertional malaise)
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as "brain fog")
- Chest or stomach pain
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
- Joint or muscle pain
- Pins-and-needles feeling
- Sleep problems
- Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness)
- Mood changes
- Change in smell or taste
- Changes in menstrual period cycles
What to Do if You Think You Have Long COVID
Ask your doctor for help treating your symptoms, or find a Long COVID clinic in your area. There is no cure for Long COVID yet; in fact, doctors are still studying it. "There is a very large study that's been initiated some time ago, the RECOVER study, at the NIH and collaboration with other agencies, looking at the incidents, the prevalence, and hopefully understanding the pathogenic mechanisms of long COVID," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, at this week's White House coronavirus task force briefing.
"Right now, the data are starting to come in," he said. "It's too early to make any definitive statements, but for those individuals—and as you know, long COVID means the persistence of signs and symptoms that are not explainable by any readily recognizable pathogenic process following the recovery from the acute infection—there have been some suggestions that it is an aberrant inflammatory response, perhaps some element of auto-immunity, perhaps some element of persistence of nucleotide fragments from the virus. All of these now are being actively pursued, but before we can make any definitive statements, we need to learn a lot more about it, but the ultimate goal of figuring out how we might be able to mitigate or prevent some of symptoms."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated 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.
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