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COVID Symptoms Should Only Last This Long, Say Physicians

These COVID symptoms are alarming doctors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

How long should COVID-19 symptoms last? Even months after recovering from the virus, some people continue to experience side effects that are confusing and alarming doctors. "Early studies indicate that one in ten people with COVID-19 may develop long COVID that lasts at least a year. Ultimately, how long these illnesses last remains to be determined," says  Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter. "For this and many other reasons, the strain on the American health care system and economy from the pandemic will not end soon." Here are five COVID symptoms and how long they might take to disappear. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Neurological Symptoms Can Last For Months

Woman hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness with motion

A number of doctors are noticing severe "long COVID" symptoms that are impacting patients' brain health. "There's a whole host of neurological manifestations of COVID infections," says UH neurologist Cathy Sila, MD, Director of the Stroke Center at the Neurological Institute at University Hospitals. "In general, it's very common for patients with critical illness to be in a confused state, with trouble organizing their thoughts or understanding what's happening to them. Cognitive impairment is one of the neurological problems most distressing to patients. It impairs people's ability to get back to a normal life. We found some of this may be directly related to the virus. Some of it is indirectly related, due to the stress of the situation. It's complicated trying to sort out what's related to the virus, what's indirectly related. But we have treatment plans for this."


Heart-Related Damage May Be Ongoing

Sick woman feeling chest pain and wearing face mask in a lobby at medical clinic.

"A lot of patients who've had COVID-19 and have recovered from their acute illness come into the clinic with symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations and lightheadedness," says Imran Rashid, MD, UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute cardiologist. "A large number of those admitted to the hospital during the acute phase of COVID-19 have some evidence of heart-related damage, such as inflammation of the heart muscle."


Too Long In the ICU?

Doctors and senior covid-19 infected patient in bed in hospital

Doctors are noticing that patients who spend too much time in the ICU could suffer from hallucinations as a result of delirium. "Many patients have hallucinations where they believe that medical providers are trying to harm them," says Megan Hosey, Ph.D. "We've had patients tell us things like 'I thought I was being buried alive' when they were being put into an MRI."

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No End In Sight For Some Patients

sad young female doctor or nurse wearing face protective mask for protection

Some doctors are witnessing younger patients who, though recovered from COVID-19, are still dealing with symptoms that make going back to work difficult if not impossible. "They don't need a cane or walker, but they are as impaired or more impaired in their daily living than someone who might be older and who is hospitalized," says John Baratta, MD, MBA. "More than half of the patients who we see who were previously working before Covid are unable to work or have reduced schedules because of their symptoms."

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Physical Rehab Could Take Months

man getting physical therapy

"We see patients in our rehab hospitals who've had long-term COVID symptoms, some very severe cases that rehabbed through the intensive care unit and then into the rehab hospitals for a matter of weeks, or even over a month," says Michael Schaefer, MD, a sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at University Hospitals. "Patients have a variety of symptoms. Profound sense of fatigue seems to be the worst thing and kind of a fogginess that is hard to pin down. But a lot of patients, as far as physical medicine rehabilitation comes into play, have pain associated with their recovery also. And sometimes it's hard to tell if this pain is directly from COVID, the neurologic effects of COVID, or maybe just because of deconditioning or immobility."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.

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