What is Long COVID?

COVID-19  has had a huge impact on our lives of all Americans and the rest of the world.  While only about 100 million cases have been officially reported in the US, it is likely that the true number is more than double that.  Around 70% of Americans have been infected with COVID since the pandemic, and more than 1 million Americans have died from the disease.
 
While COVID infections seem to be more severe and last longer than the typical viral infection or cold, and while it can be deadly to those who are unvaccinated, particularly the elderly; most people who get COVID recover without complications.  However, there is a subset of patients that have persistent symptoms that can last for many months. 
 
There are many terms used for this condition including Long COVID, Long-Haul COVID, Post-Acute COVID-19, and Chronic COVID. While there is no standard definition for Long COVID, in general, most COVID-19 infections resolve within 4 weeks, and some may take up to 12 weeks.  However, patients with symptoms that persists beyond 3 months from their initial infection have Long COVID.

The symptoms of Long COVID are many and can be severe, lasting for many months.  Patients can have physical symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or chest tightness, cough, changes in taste or smell, and even muscle and joint pain.  Patients can also have mental issues as well including problems with memory, concentration, "brain fog", anxiety, depression, sleep issues, and headache.  Some patients even have unusual sensations in their body (electrical, buzzing, pins and needles) that appear to be unique to COVID infection.  

While these symptoms can be debilitating, there are a variety of treatments available that can help patients get back to normal. 

 

Author
Matthew L. Mintz, MD, FACP

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