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How to Manage Long COVID?


People infected with COVID-19 usually fully recover in a few weeks. Some people infected with COVID might have severe symptoms, and some have mild or no symptoms. Meanwhile one out of every five to 10 people infected with COVID are affected by a condition called long COVID. As the virus that causes COVID is relatively new, not everything is known yet about long COVID and there is ongoing research to learn more.

What is long COVID?

People who do not get entirely well a month or more after having a COVID infection are said to have long COVID. With long COVID, the symptoms usually interfere with everyday tasks. And the symptoms are not explained by any other health condition a person may have.

Long COVID – also called post-COVID syndrome, long-haul COVID, or post-acute COVID – happens when new, recurring, or ongoing symptoms are present for four weeks or more after the COVID infection.

The latest research shows that long COVID symptoms can last for 12 to 18 months. The symptoms may go away completely, become chronic (long term), or come and go at various times.

As at this time, there is no test for long COVID, it can be hard for your healthcare provider (HCP) to diagnose, especially because it causes a variety of symptoms.

Long COVID symptoms

The symptoms of long COVID may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Trouble thinking (brain fog)
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in taste or smell
  • Joint pain or muscle pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Menstrual changes
  • Unexplained rash
  • Feeling worse with physical or mental activity (post-exertional malaise)

Long COVID and symptom management

See your HCP if you have symptoms of long COVID. Your symptoms will need to be reviewed by your HCP to rule out other issues (like heart problems or lung disease). Your HCP can help you decide if your symptoms are due to long COVID or some other health problem.

Long COVID symptoms can be different for everyone. If you are diagnosed with long COVID, your HCP can help you manage and improve your quality of life.

Management of symptoms can include respiratory therapy (breathing exercises), physical therapy, medication, and other treatments.

Following your treatment plan will help your recovery from long COVID so you can feel better and improve your quality of life.

Risks for getting long COVID

Some people may be at a higher risk for getting long COVID including:

  • Anyone with a COVID infection, even if the symptoms were mild or none.
  • Those with a severe COVID infection that required hospitalization or a stay in the Intensive Care Unit.
  • Those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other long-term illnesses.
  • Those who did not receive the vaccine.
  • Those who were infected before the vaccine was available.

More research is ongoing that may help to understand if there are other higher risk categories.

Prevent long COVID by avoiding COVID infection

The only way to prevent long COVID is to avoid getting a COVID infection.

COVID is spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. Droplets are released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings. Droplets can reach any person who is nearby. It is important to protect yourself and your loved ones from a COVID infection.

People with health issues like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure – and other long-term illnesses – are more likely to get a COVID infection. People who smoke or who have not received a vaccine also have an increased risk for COVID infection.

Follow these steps to lower your chance of getting COVID:

  • Get vaccinated and get a booster. Vaccines are effective at decreasing serious illness, hospitalizations, and death.
  • Wash your hands or use 60% alcohol hand sanitizer regularly.
  • Keep your distance. Stay away (six feet / two meters) from other people to avoid catching the COVID virus.
  • Wear a mask. Especially indoors and in crowds. You don’t know who has been vaccinated or who might be especially vulnerable. Wearing a mask protects you and others.
  • Take precautions when caring for someone who is sick.
  • Wear a mask when caring for someone with respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, or shortness of breath).
  • Use disinfectant sprays or wipes on surfaces that are touched often. Don’t forget phones and tablets, too.

Conclusion

Long COVID is emerging as a major world health issue. Management of the symptoms can include respiratory therapy (breathing exercises), physical therapy, medication, and other treatments. Take steps to prevent yourself from catching COVID by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask, in order to avoid long COVID.

Key takeaways

  • For every person infected with COVID, one in every five to 10 people will suffer from long COVID.
  • Long COVID causes many types of symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.
  • There is no test for long COVID and it can be difficult for your Health Care Professional (HCP) to diagnose it.
  • It is important to see your HCP because long COVID symptoms can reduce your quality of life and will likely require medical treatment to improve.
  • Research is ongoing to learn more about why long COVID happens, who is most likely to get it, and best practices for managing the symptoms.

References

  1. CDC.gov. Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions.
  2. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. (2021). Symptoms, complications and management of long COVID: a review.
  3. MayoClinic.org. COVID-19: Long-term effects.
  4. Clinical Infectious Diseases (2022). Symptom burden and immune dynamics 6 to 18 months following mild SARS-CoV-2 infection -a case-control study.
  5. European Respiratory Journal. (2022). Post-acute COVID-19 syndrome.
  6. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Long COVID: Long-Term Effects of COVID-19.
  7. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Staying Safe from COVID-19.
  8. CDC.gov. COVID-19 Boosters.
  9. CDC.gov. When and how to wash your hands.
  10. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Coronavirus Face Masks FAQ.
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