What is 'long covid'?
Posted: Dec 15, 2020
While COVID-19 caused by the coronavirus infection tends to pass quickly for most, some people are suffering from long-term effects. If the effects are lingering for more than several weeks to months after the initial infection, this is being given the name of ‘long covid’. This is a relatively new phenomenon and m0re is being rapidly learnt and research about the problem as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It has been estimated that about one in seven people who get initial symptoms from Covid-19 are still unwell for at least four weeks with about 1 in 50 still having problems after 3 months.
In that early or acute phase of the illness, the more severe forms of COVID-19 can cause things like pneumonia and respiratory failure, which can result in permanent damage and scarring to the lungs. More importantly it an increase the risk for blood clots which can then lead to problems like deep vein thrombosis, heart attacks and stroke. In some it can cause heart muscle inflammation and heart rhythm disturbances, such as atrial fibrillation. A lot of these types of complications are not unique to COVID-19 and can occur in many other types of viral infections such as the flu.
After that initial phase, when long covid can start to become a problem, the symptoms include increased fatigue and breathlessness, signs of anxiety and depression, problems with being able to smell and taste properly, chest pains with palpitations, increased joint or muscle pain, not being able to think straight or focus (often called ‘brain fog’), there are also skin conditions such as chilblains (or ‘covid toes’), and problems with the gut and bowels. While women aged 50-60 initially appear to be at the most risk from long covid, cardiac problems are being increasingly reported in fit athletes long after their initial COVID-19 infection. The presence of these longer term symptoms in fit and healthy athletes is a cause for concern. For the medical profession, there is not yet a clear definition of just what long covid is and if all these symptoms can be attributed to it or not. Not all of those with it get all of the symptoms and there have been some suggestion that what is considered now as long covid may really be several different types of syndromes, so a lot more work is needed to understand it. A lack of a simple diagnostic criteria is impacting on the getting of support and appropriate treatment for those that are affected.
The recovery from long covid is unpredictable as so much is still not known about it. In other virus infections the longer term complications often start to go away after 3 or so months, with the fatigue and tiredness lastly much longer, even up to 6 or more months. It is important to realize that everyone is different. There is no definitive treatment for long covid apart of symptomatically dealing with the manifestations and having a good diet and getting as much exercise as the symptoms allow.
Craig Payne is a University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger and a dad.