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18 Signs You've Already Had COVID, Says CDC

Think you've had COVID? Read below to find out!

To date, over 51 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S. While experts are still learning about the virus, one thing is for certain—it affects everyone differently. In fact, some didn't even know they had COVID, until looking back at symptoms they've experienced. That said, there are specific signs that point to COVID and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here's 18 signs that indicate you've had COVID and still have "Long COVID" symptoms. (Do not mistake this for having immunity; experts recommend you get vaccinated even after having a prior infection). Read on to discover 18 signs of a previous infection—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Difficulty Breathing or Shortness of Breath

Woman suffering an anxiety sitting on a couch.

The ZOE COVID Study reports, "Shortness of breath usually occurs a week after initial infection. It's associated with having a more serious case of COVID-19 and needing hospital support. For those who go to hospital, their shortness of breath tends to get worse before improving. The older you are, the longer you might experience shortness of breath and the longer it takes for you to get over it. For those who get it, children have shortness of breath for an average of two days but it can last up to five. Adults aged 16-35 have shortness of breath for three days on average but it can last up to eight, while people over 35 years old tend to have shortness of breath for five days but can take 12-13 days for the symptom to clear. It's also a symptom experienced by people with Long COVID."


Tiredness or Fatigue

Tired woman lying in bed can't sleep late at night with insomnia

John Hopkins Medicine states, "A team of researchers, including two from Johns Hopkins Medicine, have published a review article highlighting similarities between certain lingering symptoms following COVID-19 illness — a condition called 'long COVID' — and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), a debilitating, complex disorder previously known as chronic fatigue syndrome. The researchers say the symptoms shared by the two conditions may involve a biological response that goes haywire when the body encounters certain infections or other environmental hazards."

"The body's response to infection and injury is complex and covers all body systems," says lead author Bindu Paul, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "When that response is in disarray — even just one aspect of it — it can cause feelings of being tired, brain fog, pain and other symptoms."

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Symptoms That Get Worse After Physical or Mental Activities (Also Known as Post-Exertional Malaise)


Imagine feeling sick and exhausted after doing a simple task, like taking out the recycling or watching a movie. This happens to many with Long COVID and may never end. The CDC says, "Post-exertional malaise (PEM) is the worsening of symptoms following even minor physical or mental exertion, with symptoms typically worsening 12 to 48 hours after activity and lasting for days or even weeks. PEM can be mitigated by activity management (pacing). The goal is to avoid PEM flare-ups and illness relapses by balancing rest and activity. Patients need to determine their individual limits for mental and physical activity, and plan activity and rest to stay within these limits. Some patients and healthcare providers refer to staying within these limits as staying within the 'energy envelope.'" Some patients describe it as an "invisible prison."


Difficulty Thinking or Concentrating aka "Brain Fog"

Vertigo illness concept. Man hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness,a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned of, "Brain fog, fatigue, and difficulty in concentrating…So this is something we really need to seriously look at."

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Young woman sitting alone on her sofa at home and coughing.

A cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID. The ZOE COVID Study says a "persistent cough is widely known as one of the three 'classic' symptoms of COVID-19, along with fever and loss of smell, although only around four in ten people who are ill with COVID-19 will have a persistent cough." It can last well beyond your initial infection.


Chest or Stomach Pain

Senior man with pain on heart in bedroom

Chest pains can happen as a result of COVID in some patients. The ZOE COVID Study explained their data on this symptom.  "A small proportion of people with COVID-19 can experience significant chest pains, which are mostly brought on by breathing deeply, coughing or sneezing. This is likely caused by the virus directly affecting their muscles and lungs….They can come on at any time during an infection and have also been reported to occur intermittently in people with long COVID or post-COVID syndrome."

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Tired woman holding her head with her hands.

The New England Journal of Medicine detailed a COVID's patient's case that included a persistent headache. "On arrival at the emergency department, multiple episodes of vomiting occurred. The patient described headache and pain localized behind the eyes, as well as persistent shortness of breath, pleuritic pain, myalgias, nausea, vomiting, and anorexia. There was no fever, cough, abdominal pain, or diarrhea." For some Long COVID patients, this headache may never, ever go away.


Fast-Beating or Pounding Heart (aka Heart Palpitations)

cardiac disease risk

John Hopkins Medicine reported on how COVID affects the heart. "For people who have had COVID-19, lingering COVID-19 heart problems can complicate their recovery. Some of the symptoms common in coronavirus 'long-haulers,' such as palpitations, dizziness, chest pain and shortness of breath, may be due to heart problems — or, just from having been ill with COVID-19….Coronavirus infection also affects the inner surfaces of veins and arteries, which can cause blood vessel inflammation, damage to very small vessels and blood clots, all of which can compromise blood flow to the heart or other parts of the body."

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Other Signs You've Had Long COVID

Side view of a frowned young man suffering from pain in loin while sitting on white bedding

The CDC lists several other symptoms to watch out for that include the following:

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Pins-and-needles feeling
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep problems
  • Fever
  • Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness)
  • Rash
  • Mood changes
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Changes in menstrual period cycles

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What to Do if You Fear You Have Long COVID

Health visitor and a senior man during home visit

Contact a medical professional if this sounds like you. There is no cure for Long COVID but medical professionals can try to treat your symptoms. And 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