Post-viral syndromes have been associated with numerous viruses in the past, but until this pandemic, they were considered relatively rare. In the case of COVID-19, researchers are unsure whether people with extended symptoms are simply facing a long recovery or whether their illness will come to resemble something like chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex illness characterized by profound exhaustion and sleep problems.
We know COVID-19 is a completely new disease, as well as its long term sequelae. Those infected with the coronavirus are initially urged to self-quarantine for 14 days, partly based on the idea that symptoms usually last about that long. While the majority of people with mild illness recover completely during this time, researchers say that they’re seeing a small percentage of patients who remain sick for many weeks or months, even after their initial illness (and its contagiousness) fades away.
As more and more people deal with the lasting effects of the virus, a new diagnosis called “post-COVID-19 syndrome” has emerged for these long-haul sufferers.
What is post-COVID-19 Syndrome?
In late July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged the prevalence of COVID-19 long haulers for the first time. In a survey of 292 people who tested positive for the virus, the CDC found 35% hadn’t returned to their “usual state of health” two to three weeks after the test. 20% of those respondents were between the ages of 18 and 34 and had no previous chronic medical conditions. Even after the acute infection resolves, these patients experience shortness of breath, sometimes cough, and profound fatigue, usually for several months after they recover from the condition. This is not the kind of thing that’s like a routine bacterial or viral infection, where after a week or two they might be feeling better.
- Muscle or body aches
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Inability to exercise or be active
- Difficulty sleeping
- Memory problems
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- Joint pain
- Heart palpitations
The above is only one fraction of the 50 item list, which also includes unusual effects like blurry vision, heartburn, and tremors. There have been cases of other patients experiencing heart issues and blood clots, a persistent sore throat, and even hair loss. Recent research has also linked COVID-19 to pulmonary fibrosis – a lung disease that makes breathing progressively difficult due to damaged and thickened lung tissue. Patients are also likely to experience mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
According to a publication by CNN Health, research now indicates that coronavirus is a multi-system disease that can cause damage to not only the lungs but the kidneys, liver, heart, brain, and nervous system, skin, and gastrointestinal tract. The virus also involves so many parts of the body that some symptoms may be due to damage to different organs that have not repaired themselves.
When to Seek Post COVID-19 Care?
It is important to seek post-COVID-19 syndrome care from the first follow up after recovery, post-discharge, or usually around 2 weeks after discharge, or if anyone is experiencing new unusual symptoms which are hampering her/his daily life. The following are a few guidelines to suspect post-COVID-19 symptoms.
- Difficulty in breathing while resting or being active
- Unable to do tasks they could do before falling ill
- Fatigue or low energy
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Sleep difficulty
- Continued chest pain and a burning sensation in the chest/lungs
- Being forgetful
- Unable to think clearly
- Struggling with daily tasks that involve organizing, planning, and problem-solving
- Increased anxiety
- Lack of interest in daily work or surroundings
- Unusual irritation
If you have pre-existing conditions:
Those who have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, etc. must be reviewed to assess the severity of the disease before and after contracting COVID-19. It is seen that due to the impact of COVID-19, blood glucose levels usually become higher. This is compounded by steroids which the patient receives. Similarly, hypertensive patients may need to alter their medication regime. And patients with chronic lung disease or asthmatics may need an additional evaluation of the pulmonary function test.
Remedy for mild cases:
These tips may help support your body as it works through post-viral syndrome. These include:
- Sleeping for 7–9 hours every night
- Taking naps throughout the day as necessary
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking plenty of water
- Doing mild exercise during the day
- Eating a balanced and nutritious diet that contains plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and anti-inflammatory food
- Avoiding heavy and greasy food, such as fried or fast food
What you should do even if you feel completely healthy post-COVID:
- Maintain good health hygiene to prevent reinfection and make the habit of wearing a mask, a normal part of being around other people
- Keep yourself up to date on the latest information from trusted sources
- If you begin to show any symptoms similar to COVID or post COVID illnesses, consult with your family doctor
Over the past few months, as we get to know more about COVID-19, we have learned that coronavirus is unlike a normal infection. Sadly, it also has long-term effects on the human body. For many patients, survival from COVID-19 doesn’t mean their health will return to the same state before contracting the disease. The chance of catching COVID-19 and actually dying shouldn’t be the fear. Dr. Lindsay Lief, a Pulmonologist and Director of the medical ICU at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian says, “It should be the fear that you catch this virus and then you have to live with the consequences.” Remember, COVID-19 is just the first hurdle of a much longer journey.