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Already Had COVID? Here's Why You May Still Feel Sick

Here’s how long COVID symptoms can linger for.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Are you suffering from COVID-19 symptoms weeks, months, even years after recovery? "Long COVID or what's now, through the National Institutes of Health, being referred to as 'post-acute sequelae of COVID-19,' is persistent symptoms or new symptoms that develop, generally speaking, at least four to eight weeks after the initial infection with COVID-19," says Jason Maley, MD, MS. "It can include the continuation of symptoms that happened when a person was first sick, like shortness of breath, or fatigue, or it can be new symptoms where a patient feels like they've improved and they're recovering and then a month after being infected, they have worsening chest discomfort and brain fog and difficulty thinking, and all sorts of symptoms from head to toe that can either persist or develop somewhat newly after they're infected." Here is why you may still feel sick after getting COVID, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What's Causing Long COVID?

Woman taking COVID test.

Doctors and virus experts are still unsure as to what exactly is driving long COVID, and why it affects some people but not others. "There are a few current theories related to the immune system and the manifestations of long COVID that we're seeing," says Dr. Maley. "All are unproven at this point, and I think ultimately there may be several explanations for the different constellations of symptoms. We're seeing long COVID most often in people who did not have severe COVID initially, and there may be clues that the robustness of the immune response and subsequent persistent immune activation could drive symptoms."


Long COVID and Inflammation

bad heartbeat

Research shows long COVID can cause long-term inflammation of the heart muscle. "One study showed that 60% of people who recovered from COVID-19 had signs of ongoing heart inflammation, which could lead to the common symptoms of shortness of breath, palpitations and rapid heartbeat," says Cleveland Clinic. "This inflammation appeared even in those who had had a mild case of COVID-19 and who had no medical issues before they got sick."


Long COVID Fatigue

Woman experiencing a bad headache

Crushing, chronic fatigue is a commonly reported symptom of long COVID. "This is what destroys people's lives," says David Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. "If they put in one day of work they need two days to recover. If they go to a party they can't go to work the next day."


Omicron and Long COVID

woman laying on bed with a phone in her hand.

Studies show Omicron is less likely to result in long COVID than previous variants, experts say. "The Omicron variant appears substantially less likely to cause Long-COVID than previous variants but still 1 in 23 people who catch COVID-19 go on to have symptoms for more than four weeks," says Dr. Claire Steves from King's College London. "Given the numbers of people affected it's important that we continue to support them at work, at home and within the NHS."


Women and Long COVID

Woman wearing a protective cloth mask.

Long Covid appears to disproportionately affect women, experts warn. "The vast majority of people that we see in our clinic for long COVID symptoms are women who are experiencing this, what we call dysautonomia," says Dr. Salim Hayek, co-director of the University of Michigan post COVID-19 clinic. "So essentially they're experiencing lightheadedness when standing. They're experiencing rapid heart rate palpitations and shortness of breath. And it is clearly predominant in women. … I can safely say that at least 75% of patients coming in with long COVID symptoms have been women rather than men."


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.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan