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The COVID Symptoms Scaring Patients Most

Here are the most frightening symptoms of COVID-19. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Despite COVID-19 rates dropping across the U.S, many people are still dealing with symptoms of the virus. "As long as there are people who are not vaccinated, as long as this virus is around in any part of this world, and as long as those variants exist—whether that would be Omicron, Delta or any other variant—this will spread and that can lead to resurgence and more waves of this pandemic or disease," says Devang Sanghavi, MD. "That's why I would strongly insist and request everybody out there who's not vaccinated to get vaccinated at least—that would be them doing their part." Here are the COVID-19 symptoms causing the most concern. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Heart Problems

Woman touching her heart while sitting at the table in her big office.

Lingering heart issues are one of the more concerning symptoms of COVID-19. "Type 2 heart attacks are more common with COVID-19," says cardiologist Wendy Susan Post, M.D., M.S. "This heart attack can be caused by increased stress on the heart, such as a fast heartbeat, low blood oxygen levels or anemia, because the heart muscle isn't getting enough oxygen delivered in the blood in order to do this extra work. We have seen this in people with acute coronavirus disease, but it is less common in those who have survived the illness. Blood tests have shown that during COVID-19, some people have elevated levels of a substance called troponin in their blood [a sign of damaged heart tissue], along with EKG changes and chest pain."


Severe Brain Fog

Mature woman sitting in bed at home.

Brain fog is a common and scary symptom of both COVID and long COVID, and should never be ignored. "Advocate for yourself, know if you're not feeling right, [and recognize when] this isn't a headache or a migraine," says Dr. Monique White-Dominguez, a physician with Sameday Health in Los Angeles. "This isn't my anxiety or my depression. I don't feel right, I'm not sharp. I can't remember what I did 30 minutes ago and that's not normal."

"Some individuals develop medium to long-term symptoms following COVID infection, including brain fog, fatigue, headaches and dizziness," says neurologist Arun Venkatesan, M.D., Ph.D., says. "The cause of these symptoms is unclear but is an active area of investigation."


Depression and Anxiety

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

The pandemic understandably caused a huge spike in mental health issues related to what continues to be a traumatic and frightening experience. "The mental health fallout from the pandemic will continue to grow," says Lisa MacLean, MD, psychiatrist at Henry Ford Health System. "History has shown that the mental health impact of disaster outlasts the physical impact, suggesting that today's elevated mental health need will continue well beyond the coronavirus outbreak itself… many communities are seeing an increase in domestic violence, drug overdose and suicide… in some areas, mental health and suicide-hotline use have dramatically increased."

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Long-Term Loss of Taste and Smell

Man taking off face mask for smelling lemon

The loss of smell and taste may not be seen as serious when compared to COVID-19 symptoms such as heart issues, but it severely impacts quality of life over the long term. "The other thing that maybe has gotten lost with this [Omicron] surge is that there are long-term effects of COVID-19 for up to 50% of people who get infected," says infectious disease physician Stephen Parodi, MD. "They get long-term complications and sometimes it can be as simple as losing your smell for a while, which is not a benign thing. Your smell actually is important for tasting, which is important for eating, which is important for your own mental health," adding there are "long-term effects on the brain and on the nervous system."  

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Breathing Issues

Young woman feeling sick and having chest pain while coughing at home.

Some people are reporting scary long-term issues with shortness of breath, especially in "long COVID". "Recovery from lung damage takes time," says Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., M.H.S., an expert on lung disease at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. "There's the initial injury to the lungs, followed by scarring. Over time, the tissue heals, but it can take three months to a year or more for a person's lung function to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. Lung healing in of itself can produce symptoms. It is similar to a leg bone breaking, needing a cast for months, and having the cast come off. No one would expect to begin to run right away with the newly-healed leg bone. As the leg strengthens and muscle re-grows, patients will experience discomfort from this healing. This is what our lungs go through, too!"

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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