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If You Have "Long COVID," This Is When You'll Begin to Feel Symptoms

Long COVID symptoms—what to expect and for how long.

What happens when you've had COVID but the symptoms go on for weeks, or even months? "Long-term COVID—or post-acute COVID—affects a multitude of organ systems," says Devang Sanghavi, MD, an intensivist and medical director of the medical intensive care unit at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. "Starting from head to toe, it leaves behind multiple symptoms in a large proportion of patients who have recovered from COVID-19," he tells the AMA. Here are some of the symptoms of long COVID—and how long to expect them. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs COVID is Hurting You—Even After a Negative Test.


Symptoms Start After Your Initial Infection. And May Include a Mental Health Problem

Man sitting on bed holding his head.

Long COVID symptoms usually start right after the initial 5 to 14 day infection period. You may simply never feel like your old self again, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert. These symptoms can change and migrate. One frequent issue: According to the CDC, adults with symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5% between August 2020 and February 2021. "One of the most common mental health effects and challenges has been depression and anxiety," says Dr. Sanghavi. "The pandemic itself has brought about a lot of challenges to the patients' life, be it financial or personal, and add to it the recuperation from an illness like COVID. The other symptoms you would notice is brain fog, which is akin to cognitive impairment that you see in patients who have post intensive care unit syndrome…a recent study found that 25% of patients had depression, anxiety, PTSD and sleeping difficulties. And those were lingering on for months on end."

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You May Feel Neurological Symptoms or Fatigue


Dr. Lakshmi Warrior, chair of neurology at Cook County Health tells NBC 5 she's seen neurological symptoms last anywhere from six months to a year. "Some patients might have some mild symptoms from headaches to what we call brain fog where patients just don't feel like they're thinking as clearly or like back to normal with their thinking and then other patients have more severe symptoms, even stroke and significant nerve damage. So we're really seeing a pretty wide spectrum of things."

"COVID-19 causes a variety of neurological symptoms, which can stay behind in a patient after initial recovery or can develop later," says Dr. Sanghavi. You might also feel a debilitating fatigue. "We are all familiar with the feeling of fatigue after exercise or a long period of concentration. Sometimes, however, fatigue can be felt in a way that does not seem normal. Despite resting, and a good night's sleep, fatigue occurs after minimal effort, is prolonged and limits your usual activity. It can leave people feeling dull and finding it difficult to concentrate and recall memories," reports the NHS.

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You May Have Lung Issues

Asian woman having difficulty breathing in bedroom at night

According to the American Lung Association, "Even people who were asymptomatic or had mild illness can experience persistent or late symptoms long after the few weeks it takes most people to recover." "Some of the most common pulmonary symptoms post COVID-19 infection are dyspnea, decrease in exercise capacity and long-term oxygen requirements," says Dr. Sanghavi. "The way we diagnose this is through pulmonary function tests like measuring the lung capacity or the diffusion capacity of gas to see how effective the gas exchange is in the lungs. You might also need high-resolution CT scans to see changes post COVID in the lungs to further classify and define the problems."

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You May Have Loss of Taste and Smell

female cook standing at the hob in her apron tasting her food in the saucepan with a grimace as she finds it distasteful and unpalatable

"According to one study, 95% of the patients recover their sense of taste and smell eventually," says Dr. Sanghavi. "It may take months, but their sense of taste and smell sensation would come back. Initially it was thought that it is a direct invasion of [the] virus into the olfactory cells or the neurons, but now, as we understand the process more, it seems like this impacts the helper cells and not the neurons directly. And as the helper cells recover, the sense of taste and smell recover too. People may ask if they can do anything to get it back and re-sensitization with aromatherapy is one way that could potentially work, but there is no clear proof that anything works right now."

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Can Getting Vaccinated Help With Long Covid Symptoms?

Nurse gives students a vaccination in school during coronavirus pandemic

According to Dr. Sanghavi, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated–especially if you're dealing with long COVID. It might help relieve some symptoms, though that is not clincially proven "You may see less COVID-19 around you, but it's still there, so I strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated. It doesn't matter which vaccine you get, but what we have seen is that all three vaccines protect against severe disease and hospitalization. Get vaccinated and until the pandemic is over, we should continue doing our personal hygiene hand-washing and wearing masks to protect ourselves and the broader population in general."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

A mid adult woman protects herself by placing an N95 face mask over her nose and mouth.

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 live your healthiest life, don't miss this life-saving advice I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Cancer.

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
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