The lasting misery of COVID-19

If you have just been diagnosed with COVID-19, you probably have a lot of questions, including, “How long does it take to recover?” It depends.

Common symptoms of COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) says recovery for mild cases takes 2 weeks. However, some people may experience persistent symptoms for weeks or months following initial recovery while others may develop complications that have lasting health effects. This condition, known as ‘long COVID’, can have a debilitating effect on different parts of the body.

The long-term effects appear unrelated to the severity of the infection. Even those with mild initial symptoms continue to suffer a range of long-haul ordeal after their recovery.

The long-term effects appear unrelated to the severity of the infection. Even those with mild initial symptoms continue to suffer a range of long-haul ordeal after their recovery.

The most common long-term symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain

Other long-term symptoms may include:

  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Intermittent fever
  • Heart palpitations

According to a JAMA study of 2 months on follow-up, 87% of COVID-19 patients had persistent symptoms.

Organ damage caused by COVID-19

COVID-19 is more deadly than you thought! Although it was initially understood to be a respiratory condition that primarily affects the lungs, we know now that it can cause widespread damage to other organs as well.

More serious long-term complications appear to be less common but have been reported. In severe cases, patients are likely to experience dreadful complications.

Lungs

Pneumonia associated with COVID-19 can cause massive damage to the respiratory system. Inflammation causes the alveoli (tiny air sacs) that make up the lung to fill with fluid. This progression limits a person’s ability to take in oxygen. Even after the disease has passed, the resulting scarring in the lungs can lead to long-term breathing difficulties.

Heart

COVID-19 infections leave a severe impact on the heart and worsen pre-existing cardiovascular conditions. The disease may damage heart muscle, even in those who display only mild COVID-19 symptoms. It causes myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, which can lead to an increased risk of heart failure or other heart complications.

Brain

COVID-19 patients, even the younger ones, are suffering a range of neurological manifestations, ranging from brain fog, loss of taste and smell, to life-threatening conditions such as strokes, seizures and Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves). New data suggest that the coronavirus may also increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Road to COVID-19 recovery

The road to full recovery can be difficult with ‘long COVID’. Of course, how long it takes to recover from the disease can differ from person to person.

Post-COVID care is essential even the virus is no longer detected in your body. There are things you can do to manage the symptoms and speed up your recovery. Getting adequate sleep, stay hydrated and eating well will go a long way to helping your overall wellness.

To ease your journey to recovery, help your body to:

Listen to your body and give yourself sufficient time to gradually transition into your normal life day-to-day routine. Be sure to take good care of yourself and always follow your health care provider’s instructions.

The best way to prevent these long-term complications is to prevent COVID-19. Remember to practise precautions such as wearing masks in public places, avoiding crowds and confined places, and frequently wash your hands.

Reference:

  1. Carfì, A., Bernabei, R., Landi, F., & Gemelli Against COVID-19 Post-Acute Care Study Group (2020). Persistent Symptoms in Patients After Acute COVID-19. JAMA324(6), 603–605.
  2. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, November 12). Long-Term Effects. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects.html
  3. World Health Organization (2020, September 9). Long-term effects of VOCID-19. https://www.who.int/teams/risk-communication/epi-win-updates