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Already Had COVID? You Might Have These Symptoms "Forever"

Experts explain what to know about long COVID.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Long COVID isn't fully understood yet, but it's something that is affecting millions in the United States and around the world. As people battle symptoms for weeks or months after the initial virus infection, their daily lives are significantly disrupted and many can't return to work in the full capacity as before. It's a highly concerning aspect of the pandemic and Dr. Sunjya Schweig, MD expert in chronic illnesses and Founder at California Center for Functional Medicine says, "The societal fallout from long COVID is set to be potentially one of the largest mass disabling events in history. Millions of patients worldwide will need comprehensive medical and social support. It is vital that researchers and physicians invest the resources necessary to help people recover their health as quickly and completely as possible, and to find directions for diagnosis and treatment." Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss Already Had COVID? These Symptoms May "Never Go Away".

1

Long COVID Is Real, But Some Doctors Don't Take It Seriously

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Dr. Schweig explains, "Long COVID is a complex, multisystem illness and doctors are still trying to understand how to diagnose and treat it. It is very possible that someone might be seen by a doctor who doesn't understand or believe in long COVID and therefore give the patient incomplete or incorrect information. If a person believes they are struggling with long COVID, they should seek the care of experts and/or practitioners who specialize in long COVID. Long COVID can overlap with many other health conditions and needs to be taken into consideration with a comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of all body system imbalances. People should be aware that this is a new chronic illness and the science surrounding issues of causes, how many people have it, and treatment/management are constantly evolving. Long COVID falls under the ADA as a disability  – it has the potential to completely alter and derail someone's life and health." 

2

If You Were Hospitalized With COVID There's A Higher Chance You'll Experience Long COVID

Infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital.
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Gita Castallian, MPH Director of Programs at Functional Medicine Research and Technology Center says, "The data around how many people get long Covid ranges greatly from study to study due to variations in study design, populations sampled and differing definitions of long COVID. However, what a majority of researchers are seeing is that if someone was hospitalized, there is a 50 percent chance that they will get long COVID; and if you were not hospitalized there is a 10-30 percent chance of developing long COVID. 

However, recent studies have indicated that 75 percent of patients with long Covid were not hospitalized during their acute illness. Essentially, every kind of patient is at risk, from people who were hospitalized with severe COVID-19 to those with very mild bouts who recovered at home. Even people who were asymptomatic during acute COVID are at risk of developing long term symptoms. In fact, many long haulers come from a large, hidden group who self-isolated at home when they were unwell, did not access a PCR Covid test and therefore have no formal health record of COVID-19."

3

Study Finds Vaccine Reduces The Risk Of Long COVID By 15 Percent

Nurse with face mask sitting at home with senior woman and injecting covid 19 vaccine.
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Castallian states, "While vaccination may have a protective effect on the development of long Covid, a recent large study found that this protective factor is small, and being vaccinated appeared to reduce the risk of getting long COVID by only 15 percent. Vaccination also showed a small decreased risk of developing lung and blood clot disorders but little in terms of other symptoms."

4

A Negative COVID Test Doesn't Mean You Don't Have Long COVID

Man self tests for COVID-19 home test kit.
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Castallian explains, "Remember that a negative covid test, or a lack of a covid test does not exclude long Covid. There are high rates of false negatives with antigen tests and many people who had acute covid in the first wave of infections did not have access to any tests. The denial of long Covid simply because a positive covid test isn't provided can lead to increased stigmatization and denial of a truly debilitating chronic illness. It is important to keep in mind that everyone presents with long Covid differently and their experiences vary significantly. Treatment, management and other considerations should therefore be individualized.  As someone with long Covid, try not to overexert yourself. While it may feel frustrating to not be able to do the level of activity you could before developing long Covid, pushing yourself too hard, too fast- whether mentally or physically- can lead to a crash. A slow and steady pace of increasing back to your normal levels is the best route."

5

Long COVID Can Affect Daily Life

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According to Castallian, "Long Covid symptoms can be debilitating for some, keeping them from doing normal daily activities and decreasing overall quality of life. It affects every single aspect of someone's life and functioning, leaving many unable to return to work, care for themselves or their loved ones, and will likely require long-term medical care and attention. In fact, one survey found that 44% of people with long Covid were out of work and 51% worked fewer hours. Some people express distress over not being able to do basic things like household chores, playing with their children, or going for a walk on a sunny day. Others express distress, anxiety and depression over the stigma received by dealing with an invisible illness: being extremely sick even though it is not readily visible from the outside.The main takeaway is that this complex and multifactorial illness affects almost every aspect of life and health long-term."

6

Long COVID Can Affect Every Organ In The Body

Woman suffering from stomach cramps on the sofa at home.
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Castallian reveals, "Long covid can affect every body system and every organ in the body, resulting in over 200 different symptoms ranging from brain fog to severe fatigue to heart rate management issues to organ failure. They vary from person to person, as long Covid does not affect everyone in the same way. Some people experience one set of symptoms, others possibly having a vastly different experience. The symptoms themselves tend to be relapsing and remitting. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Cough and shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Reduced exercise tolerance"

Dr. Schweig adds, Treatment and management of long Covid needs to be highly personalized and individualized, based on each individual's symptom presentation and health background. That said, some basics steps that are beneficial to most people with long Covid include: 

  • Getting optimal sleep: vital for many aspects of including inflammation and immune function
  • Eating a healthy and nutritious diet: 70% of the immune is in the gut
  • Hydration
  • Pacing your energy expenditure
  • Stress management
  • Breath work and breath training: can be helpful for restoring physiological balance and cardiovascular function 

At the California Center for Functional Medicine, we have found some of the most helpful supplements for long Covid to include:

  • Mitochondrial and detox support with glutathione, NAC (N Acetyl Cysteine), ALA (Alpha lipoic acid)
  • Optimizing vitamin D levels (goal blood level 50-60)
  • Immune support with high dose zinc and vitamin A
  • Anti-Inflammatory/ MAST cell support – magnesium, vitamin D, quercetin
  • Coagulation support with enzymes such as Nattokinase or Lumbrokinase, and supplements such as pycnogenol

As necessary, when working with a knowledgeable practitioner, additional therapies might also target the immune system response to viruses, antiviral medications, anti-inflammatory medications (sometimes used off-label, such as low-dose statin therapy, and/or combo therapies for hypercoagulation or microclots)." 

7

These 5 Risk Factors Can Increase The Likelihood Of Developing Long COVID

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Dr. Schweig says the following can raise the chances of long COVID.

  1. "Type 2 diabetes
  2. Reactivation of Epstein Barr Virus, a virus present in most people that remains dormant in many
  3. The presence of certain autoantibodies, creating a long Covid antibody signature, that mistakenly attack tissues in the body.
  4. A higher level of covid RNA in the blood early in the infection (viral load)
  5. Having a less diverse microbiome (gut dysbiosis)."

8

How to Stay Safe Out There

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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