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The #1 Signal Your COVID Symptoms May "Last Forever"

Expert explains what to know about Long COVID
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

According to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics, "Overall, 1 in 13 adults in the U.S. (7.5%) have 'Long COVID' symptoms, defined as symptoms lasting three or more months after first contracting the virus, and that they didn't have prior to their COVID-19 infection." The finding, which is drawn from the Household Pulse Survey run in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau and also states, "Older adults are less likely to have long COVID than younger adults. Nearly three times as many adults ages 50-59 currently have long COVID than those age 80 and older. Women are more likely than men to currently have long COVID (9.4% vs. 5.5%)." Long COVID continues to affect a large portion of the population and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 15 years of direct patient care experience who shares signs you may have Long COVID. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Should People Know About COVID Right Now?

Female doctor consults mature patient during the quarantine for coronavirus.

Marchese says, "People should know that while masking requirements and gathering restrictions have been lifted in many areas, it's not an indicator that cases are low or that COVID infections have become less severe. The disease risk is still high in populated areas throughout the U.S., especially in regions with low vaccination numbers. At-home testing has become more prominent, which is a great way to know if you're at risk but has also contributed to lower officially reported case numbers. Practices such as avoiding dense indoor gatherings, getting booster vaccinations when appropriate and following good hygiene are still vital for preventing infection and the spread of COVID."


Why Shouldn't We Expose Ourselves to COVID and Get It Over With?

According to Marchese, "Exposure to COVID intentionally risks fatal respiratory illness or severe, long-lasting complications, regardless of any possible protection against future infection. Some reports cite partial immunity against the omicron variant for people who have had a previous COVID infection. However, multiple reifications are still possible. A repeat COVID infection has a 20% chance of causing worse symptoms and severe complications. One study indicated that reinfections had increased 15-fold since the omicron COVID variant became dominant in 2022. More importantly, primary and secondary infections in vaccinated individuals continue to be milder than in unvaccinated people. Hospitalization rates continue to be much lower among the vaccinated population."


What is Long COVID and Who is at Risk?

Woman wearing surgical mask on face protective for spreading of disease Covid-19 pandemic.. Girl symptom cough while sitting on Sofa.

Marchese explains, "Some COVID symptoms can last for weeks or months after recovery. This condition, known as 'Long COVID,' still requires further study to determine the best way to treat these symptoms, so they don't last forever. Over the past two years of the pandemic, the number of Long COVID cases continues to increase. The most common symptoms include brain fog (difficulty focusing), confusion, nausea, increased fatigue, altered smell or taste, cough, shortness of breath and increased heart rate. It's challenging to determine which groups are most at risk since symptoms vary from person to person. However, previous COVID infection severity and preexisting conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, seem to be the most significant risk factors. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates between 7.7 million and 23 million Americans have developed Long COVID."


What Can be Done to Treat Long COVID?

Doctors and infected patient in quarantine in hospita.

Marchese states, "Treatment for Long COVID depends on the cause and symptoms, which can vary significantly between patients. Researchers have identified potential reasons for Long COVID, including autoimmune responses, organ damage and micro clots that damage blood vessels. Doctors can use specific antibody tests to confirm a prior COVID infection, then rule out other illnesses that may appear similar to Long COVID. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as steroids, can help alleviate symptoms for some patients, but more targeted treatments are still undergoing testing in clinical trials."


Signs That Your COVID Symptoms Aren't Going Away

"After you've tested positive for COVID or recovered from a COVID infection, keep track of lingering abnormalities, such as fatigue, confusion, increased heart rate or cough," says Marchese. "These symptoms, such as a cough or rapid heart rate after light activity, may not be immediately noticeable. Still, they could indicate a more prolonged or potentially severe complication of COVID. Take note of changes in thinking and memory, your ability to complete daily tasks or exercise and whether you lack regular energy over days or weeks." 


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.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather