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What are the long-term health effects of COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory condition caused by a virus that is easily spread from one person to another. For most people who become infected with the virus, COVID-19 results in mild to moderate respiratory symptoms that resolve within a matter of days – or at least a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, and often without explanation, some individuals have more severe illness while some experience lingering effects from COVID that can cause a myriad of health issues, including some very serious ones.

Healthcare providers are seeing more and more patients with recurring effects from previous COVID-19 infections. This condition may be referred to as “Long COVID” and may be diagnosed if side effects last for several weeks after a COVID-19 infection. Long-lasting side effects can occur even in individuals who had no symptoms or only mild symptoms from the actual COVID-19 infection.

Symptoms of “Long COVID” may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Depression
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing)
  • Recurring cough
  • Joint pain
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Changes in taste or smell

Rarely, multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) may be seen after COVID-19 illness. This can be a life-threatening condition with limited treatment options. There is also some indication of increases in other autoimmune conditions following a COVID-19 infection.

For some individuals, a COVID-19 infection can have even more serious impacts, affecting the function of the heart and lungs moving forward.

“While research is still ongoing, we are seeing COVID infection exacerbating or revealing underlying issues related to the heart, lungs and vascular system,” said Deborah L. Goldsmith, MD, a specialist in infectious disease at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia. “For some patients, this can include damage to the vascular lining or an increased risk for heart attack or stroke.”

Those most susceptible to experiencing lingering effects of COVID-19 include those who are at an advanced age and individuals who have other health conditions. However, healthcare providers sometimes see younger and healthier individuals struggle with lingering symptoms.

Post-COVID effects should be closely monitored to ensure that symptoms are well managed and any underlying health issues are not worsened.

“Those who have a heart, lung or vascular issue prior to having a COVID infection may see their condition worsen after infection with the virus. In addition, someone who was healthy before getting COVID may experience serious effects to their heart, lungs or nervous system after recovering from the virus,” said Dr. Goldsmith.

People who were hospitalized for a long time due to COVID-19 may experience additional challenges. These can include tracheal stenosis from prolonged intubation, deconditioning of the body or severe weakness and post-traumatic stress disorder. Physical therapy may be needed to regain strength or mobility that was lost during a long stay in the hospital. Some patients may require long-term oxygen therapy due to the damage the infection causes within the lungs. There are even some individuals who have needed lung transplants due to the severity of lung damage.

Health researchers still have much more analysis to do on the long-term effects that COVID can have on one’s health and why certain people are affected. If you have recovered from COVID but continue to experience effects or have concerns about your heart or lungs, speak to your healthcare provider about the best testing and treatment options.

Learn more about COVID, including ways to prevent illness, testing options and treatment options at