Major Signs You Had COVID Already
A shocking 50% of people who get COVID may have long-term symptoms that can change their lives. That's the stunning finding from a brand new study, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers. These "long haulers" have Long COVID, or PASC, or Post-COVID Syndrome, and it can ruin their lives. To discuss the damaging effects, doctors from Emory University convened recently for a webchat and we compiled what they said. Read on for the main symptoms of Long COVID—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
You May Have Fatigue and "Brain Fog"
"The most common thing that we actually see is fatigue and brain fog," says Dr. Alex Truong, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary pulmonary allergy, critical care and sleep medicine at Emory University. "I think a lot of our patients are saying that they have to sleep excessively. They can't survive a day without a nap, or they're sleeping 12 to 14 hours, whereas normally with sleep, they were somewhere between six to eight hours. Additionally, they're having significant memory loss, brain fog, where they have difficulties finding words, losing track of sentences in the middle of conversations, as well as trying to organize their activities of daily living or their jobs. So that's been really affecting them as well."
You May Have a Persistent Shortness of Breath
"The shortness of breath doesn't seem to be only because of just lung pathology," says Dr. Truong. "It seems to be related to the heart—fast heartbeats syndromes. It may be related to the fact that they're having just overall fatigue that's making it feel very short of breath. That's been a challenging process to treat, if it's changing a lot of our patients have actually kind of evolved in their symptom presentation, depending on how long out it's been since their infection." He added you can see "shortness of breath from lung inflammation and scarring that's actually residual from COVID pneumonia itself. And those populations of patients seem to be responsive to steroids that are used for over weeks to months. There's a more puzzling second category of patients with shortness of breath related to either airway inflammation, fast heart rate, or just some idiopathic shortness of breath that we can't seem to figure out after exhaustive testing. Those patients sometimes respond very well to inhaled steroids. Some of those patients respond very well to medications and slow down the heart rate like beta blockers. So it really depends on what your symptoms are."
You May Have Mental Health Issues
"There's a lot of people who are affected not only by the physical aspects of long COVID, but also the mental aspects of it," says Dr. Truong. "I think that it has caused a lot of anxiety and depression, and I think a lot of patients are suffering are alone or they feel like they aren't understood or somehow thought to be made guilty for making it up or whatnot. I can share with my patients that they aren't alone, that it is real and that there are some resources out there that may be able to help them still understanding that a lot of this is a work in progress, and we're still trying really hard to figure out how to take care of patients. But I want them to know that there are resources out there that they are not alone and that what they're going through is real."
Why Do People Have Long COVID?
"That's the million dollar question," says Dr. Truong. "If we can answer that, we can help so many people. We actually have been doing some research here and in our group here at Emory, we've actually just recently pre-published a paper that seems to suggest that these patients have residual antibodies—that their body's reaction to that antibody is actually causing some of the perpetuation of these symptoms. And in my population, there was an initial thought that it was related to inflammation or residual inflammation from the infection. But when I looked at my group of patients and look at their inflammatory markers, the ones that we tend to follow there doesn't seem to be a correlation between how long your disease lasts and how persistent those inflammatory markers are. So I don't think that that's actually going to play out."
What to Do if You Think You Have Long COVID
Contact a Post-COVID center near you, or your primary care doctor. There is no cure yet. "It's almost an evolutionary process right now to try to figure out how to take care of patients," said the doctor. "I think with every week that goes by, we learn a lot more, and it also depends on exactly what symptoms they're struggling with. We have found that overall, in all COVID patients, there is a small number of patients that seem to have a response to anti-histamines because there's a belief that there is a mass cell activation syndrome that these patients have, and that the use of anti-histamines….has been shown to help those patients with their fatigue, their memory loss. …Unfortunately are having a hard time trying to pick out which of those populations are going to be benefited from those medications and which are not."
So talk to your doctor about what's right for you, get vaccinated—"if you don't want to get Long COVID, don't get COVID," says the doctor—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.