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The #1 COVID Symptom That Never Goes Away

No, it’s not just you.

Have you experienced lingering, debilitating fatigue after getting infected with COVID-19? You're not alone—experts are concerned about the number of people reporting fatigue even after having recovered from the virus. "Because there is no agreed definition of post-COVID fatigue, it is impossible to give exact numbers of how many people experience it," says Dr. Natasha Yates, Assistant Professor, Bond University. "Estimates vary considerably worldwide. One review of 21 studies found 13-33% of people were fatigued 16-20 weeks after their symptoms started. This is a worryingly widespread problem." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Fatigue and Long COVID Aren't Necessarily the Same

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"Early in the pandemic, we realized some patients had a cluster of debilitating symptoms that dragged on for months, which we now call long COVID," says Dr. Yates. "Some 85% of long COVID patients experience fatigue, making it one of the most common long COVID symptoms. However, people with long COVID have a range of other symptoms, such as 'brain fog', headaches and muscle aches. Patients with long COVID therefore experience more than fatigue, and sometimes don't have fatigue at all."

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Is COVID Fatigue Like Chronic Fatigue?

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

Dr. Anthony Fauci has previously compared COVID-19 to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), another debilitating long-term health condition. "Dr. Anthony Fauci has speculated that long COVID likely is the same as or very similar to myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)," says Harvard Health. "ME/CFS can be triggered by other infectious illnesses — such as mononucleosis, Lyme disease, or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus disease."

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Why Do Some People Get Fatigue?

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Doctors and scientists are still learning new things every day about how and why some people experience symptoms like long-term fatigue while others don't. "There is still a significant amount we don't know about what causes long COVID, and why some people develop these chronic symptoms," says Dr. Steven Faux, Director at the Rehabilitation Unit at St Vincent's Public Hospital in New South Wales, Australia. "We are seeing asthma-like symptoms, fatigue and brain fog, but we are not sure exactly why it occurs in some people and not others, or why some people recover six or 12 months after infection… There are people we are seeing with just respiratory problems like breathlessness, fatigue cough and wheezing who need pulmonary rehab. And there is another group of patients that might have respiratory symptoms, but also have muscle joint pains and mental health issues after being admitted to hospital and ICU with severe disease."

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Don't Feel Pressured To Bounce Back

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It can be difficult, but people dealing with post-COVID fatigue shouldn't try to force themselves to get back to 'normal' if they're not ready. "When people are forced to overexert themselves, it pushes the body into emergency mode and can cause permanent damage," says Melissa Smallwood, a science and technology policy researcher. "One major risk factor for this is pressure to get back to work too soon."

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No, You're Not Imagining It

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If you're dealing with fatigue, don't hesitate to visit your health provider and get whatever help is available. "There is this presumption that perhaps it's just depression or anxiety, or perhaps it's the pandemic or the state of the world, but people know when there's something wrong with them," says Jaime Seltzer, director of scientific and medical outreach at #MEAction, which advocates for people with ME/CFS. "People with chronic complex disease have been living with this for decades. Researchers have been studying this for decades. We definitely need to make use of the path that we've beaten down over time and start basing our hypotheses off of what we've seen in these diseases with other labels."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Check-in for coronavirus vaccination against Covid-19 with doctor in the background.

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
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