Just when you thought the coronavirus couldn't be worse, it's clear the virus leaves many people with long-lasting, debilitating symptoms that may never go away, and we're not just talking for those hospitalized. Even mild cases of COVID-19 are leading to many Americans being hobbled, maimed and not their old selves. The syndrome is called "Long COVID, a constellation of signs and symptoms characterized by" the following symptoms, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at yesterday's COVID press briefing. Read on to see if you experience any of these symptoms—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Note the word Fauci used: "Extreme." He's right. Even young people can "develop symptoms that are quite crippling, in terms of fatigue," says Dr. Helen Chu, an American immunologist who is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, "that makes it hard for you to just do your normal activities." One sufferer used to run 10Ks, no problem. Now, after a mild case of COVID, he can't even break boxes down for recycling, or take a 10 minute walk, without his body collapsing from exhaustion or migraine a day later. "It has a significant impact on your quality of life."
Unexplained Shortness of Breath
A respiratory disease by nature, COVID can infect your lungs and naturally lead to shortness of breath. It's an initial sign of COVID but can be one that never goes away. You may also experience shortness of breath and have completely clear lungs, due to a heart issue or inflammation.
Dr. Fauci has warned of "myalgia"—muscle aches. These can appear anywhere on your body. One patient has back aches for months and chest aches, too; now he has crushing migraines instead.
Dr. Fauci described dysautonomia as "temperature dysregulation"—when "it's difficult for the body to maintain normal temperatures and results in periods of feeling hot or cold when there has been no change in the actual temperature indoors or outdoors," according to Marie Namey, RN, MSN, MSCN, Mellen Center for MS Treatments&Research, Cleveland, OH—or unexplained tachycardia, which the Mayo Clinic calls "a heart rate over 100 beats per minute."
In a terrible irony, the very people who need sleep to restore their health may have a hard time sleeping due to neurological issues. "Good sleep helps support the immune system. Disrupted sleep can reduce circulating cytokines, which are a type of protein that helps protect against infection. This clearly has implications for being able to ward off infectious agents like coronavirus," Dr. Chandra Jackson, an NIH expert on sleep, told Dr. Marishka Brown. "And if you're actually sick for whatever reason, resting your body seems to help you recover faster. Lastly, chronic sleep deprivation has also been shown to make vaccines less effective, by reducing the body's ability to respond."
Depression and Anxiety
Who wouldn't feel depressed or anxious given all the harrowing symptoms of Long COVID? One moment your life is normal; the next you can't do household chores without collapsing. This change of life has led to depression and anxiety, which may also be caused by, or exacerbated by, neurological disorders. "A high proportion of our cohort reported a worse quality of life or a worsened quality of life after their infection," says Nicholas Franko of the University of Washington School of Medicine Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Chu Lab. "And that's understandable given the burdens that come with that illness. And we understand that there are a lot of hardships right now—everything surrounding their infection can add to that for the people who experienced really severe long-term effects, they have massive impacts to their quality of life, to work, to being able to function day to day."
Dr. Fauci called this an "inability to concentrate." "One of the dozens of unusual symptoms that have emerged in COVID-19 patients is a condition that's informally called 'COVID brain' or 'brain fog.' It's characterized by confusion, headaches, and loss of short-term memory. In severe cases, it can lead to psychosis and even seizures. It usually emerges weeks after someone first becomes sick with COVID-19," reports Memorial Sloan Kettering.
What to Do About Long COVID
"What are we doing about this quite serious situation that we're facing now, given the numbers of people infected a relatively large number of people?" said Dr. Fauci. "Two days ago, the NIH announced the awarding of $470 million to build a national study population cohort to study the long-term effects of COVID-19. The funding was supported by the American Rescue Plan and the parent award is going to NYU Langone Health. They will then make many—up to 30 or more—subawards to institutions that will serve as the core of this recovery." Until they crack the code, talk to your medical professional about your symptoms, visit the RECOVER site 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.