What Are Some Common Symptoms of Long COVID or Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome?
Johns Hopkins University reports that there are over 118 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 29 million cases in the U.S. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Christian Sandrock, professor of medicine in pulmonary critical care and infectious diseases at UC Davis School of Medicine, said post-COVID patients are reporting multiple symptoms, which can come and go. “When we look at the long-term symptoms… The big things we see are fatigue, lethargy, and sleep disturbance, and that makes up probably more than half of what we see. Loss of taste and smell is a very specific one that we will see. Shortness of breath is a very specific one, and chest pain as well.”
A research letter published in the journal JAMA Network Open shines a very important light on the relatively new condition known as post-COVID syndrome (also referred to as “long COVID” and “post-acute COVID-19 syndrome”).
Common symptoms of long COVID or post-acute COVID-19 syndrome
The JAMA Network Open letter was based on findings from a study conducted at the University of Washington. Researchers followed 177 people with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections for up to nine months. Their research represents the longest follow-up study of post-COVID patients since the onset of the pandemic. Additionally, the group studied was comprised of 150 outpatients who had “mild” disease but were never hospitalized. The findings of the research were, to say the least, concerning.
Researchers found that 30% of respondents reported persistent symptoms.
Some of those symptoms included:
- Extreme fatigue
- Loss of smell or taste
- More than 30% of respondents reported worse quality of life compared to before getting sick
- 14 participants (8%) — including nine who had not been hospitalized — reported having trouble performing at least one usual daily activity (such as chores).
If that weren’t alarming enough, another recent study found that 56% of COVID-19 survivors develop a mental disorder after recovering from the virus.
That study took place out of San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy. Researchers examined 402 patients—265 men and 137 women—a month after they were released from the hospital following treatment for COVID-19. Researchers used clinical interviews and self-assessment questionnaires to gauge patients’ symptoms of various mental health disorders. They found that nearly 56% of patients studied “presented a clinical score for at least one mental disorder.”
Researchers hypothesize that inflammation plays a significant role in the development of these mental disorders in COVID-19 survivors, citing that “worse inflammation leads to worse depression.”
Moreover, the findings show that COVID-19 not only has the ability to incite the development of a mental disorder in patients who have never had one previously, but the virus also exacerbates existing mental disorders. “Patients with a positive previous psychiatric diagnosis showed increased scores on most psychopathological measures, with similar baseline inflammation,” the authors wrote.
Some of the post-COVID mental disorders identified in the Italian study include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The most common disorder reported in the study was anxiety, with 42% of post-COVID patients experiencing symptoms.
With news of post-COVID syndrome and COVID long-haulers grabbing headlines, many celebrities who contracted the coronavirus have come forward to share their stories, opening up about how long-term symptoms have impacted their lives. Some celebrities who decided to publicly share their struggles include:
Alyssa Milano: Milano was diagnosed with COVID-19 in April, but she went back to the hospital on August 8 due to a “real heaviness” in her chest. The next day, Milano took to Twitter to share a video demonstrating the hair loss she experienced from COVID-19, months after her “recovery.” Milano is not alone in having this startling issue—a recent survey from Indiana University School of Medicine found that 26% of COVID-19 survivors experienced hair loss.
Lena Dunham: Dunham contracted the coronavirus in mid-March and experienced fatigue, numbness, fever, a cough, and a loss of taste and smell. However, some of these symptoms persisted long after her diagnosis. After a month, Dunham said, she was cleared to leave isolation, but her symptoms weren’t gone. “I had swollen hands and feet, an unceasing migraine and fatigue that limited my every move,” she wrote on Instagram. “The serious long-term health consequences of a COVID-19 infection are something doctors are learning more about every hour…but we don’t yet understand the long-term impact of this illness on people’s bodies and minds.”
Chris Cuomo: Cuomo contracted the virus in early April. However, Cuomo said he was still suffering from COVID symptoms in mid-July despite reportedly contracting a relatively mild case of the virus. “I’ve got brain fog that won’t go away. I’ve got an onset of clinical depression, which is not sadness, but it is depression. I never had it before. I have it now,” he said. “I can’t recover from workouts the way I did before.”
Rudy Gobert: Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 in early March, but continued to experience long-term symptoms. In a June interview with French-based sports outlet L’equipe, Gobert said he was still not fully recovered from COVID-19. “The taste has returned, but the smell is still not 100 percent. I can smell the smells, but not from afar. I spoke to specialists, who told me that it could take up to a year,” Gobert said.
Prince Charles: Charles tested positive for COVID in March and experienced mild symptoms, telling the BBC he “got away with it quite lightly.” But the Prince of Whales recently told the media outlet that he is still suffering from a loss of smell and taste months after the initial diagnosis.
What treatment options exist for post-COVID patients with long-term symptoms?
“Treatment needs to be customized,” said Dr. Sandrock of UC Davis. “We have to really spend our time seeing what our patients need. Some of them — they really just have chest pain, shortness of breath and low oxygen levels, and in that case we can manage that. Another person may have a lot of brain fog, difficulty concentrating and sleep disturbances — that’s a whole host of other things we then need to do.”
Depending on the symptoms, Dr. Sandrock says treatment can involve referral to other experts within the clinic, medications, and rehabilitation. Medications can include immune-modulators, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, beta-blockers and/or steroids. Rehab is typically cognitive, pulmonary, and/or cardiac-related. Sleep studies are also utilized to root out the cause of any sleep disturbance.
But Dr. Sandrock tells CNN there is one constant. “The only treatment I’ve seen that’s consistent is a lot of what we would call supportive care. So that really involves better living and higher quality living, for lack of a better term. But that means you really need sleep. Sleep is going to matter a lot,” Sandrock said, noting that stress reduction, meditation, and yoga are also part of the mix.
Expert MRI’s Post-COVID Protocols
A recent CNN article referred to SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – as a “tricky virus” which affects individuals in remarkably different ways, yet without a clear rationale for why. While many people end up hospitalized for many months and even die, others aren’t aware they were ever infected.
With post-COVID long-term symptoms becoming a part of our everyday dialogue, many people are left questioning whether or not they actually had COVID-19, but were asymptomatic and therefore totally unaware. Could you have contracted COVID-19 at some point, but are only experiencing symptoms now (the type of symptoms that are considered “long-term”)?
We recently published a blog providing information on our new post-acute COVID-19 syndrome protocols, including MRI brain scans and a CT lung/chest scans. Our medical diagnostics testing capabilities can be an invaluable tool in helping to diagnose and manage long-term post-COVID symptoms such as those outlined above. As Dr. Sandrock of UC Davis stated in the CNN interview, “treatment needs to be customized.” One of the best ways to go about establishing a customized treatment plan is to identify how COVID-19 has affected various areas of your body. Our post-COVID chest/lung CT and brain MRI testing protocols allow us to do just that, pinpointing any areas of damage or inflammation that could require ongoing treatment.