While COVID-19 symptoms may pass quickly for some people, millions of others face lingering symptoms called long COVID, PASC (Post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2) or post-COVID syndrome.
Long COVID can affect anyone – children and adults, otherwise healthy people and those with other health conditions. It’s been seen in those who’ve been hospitalized and those with very mild symptoms.
As of July 2021, long COVID has been classified as a disability under the federal Americans and Disability Act, but there are still many questions about the condition.
As researchers continue to try to piece together the mysteries surrounding long COVID, Bethany Bruzzi, DO, chief medical officer at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, answered questions about what we know, including symptoms and treatment.
What is long COVID?
“An individual with long COVID has symptoms that persist, relapse or reoccur for more than 30 days after first being infected by the COVID-19 virus following recovery from the initial illness,” Dr. Bruzzi said.
Studies show 25% to 30% of people who recover from COVID-19 will deal with lingering symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Brain fog (difficulty thinking or concentrating)
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain/issues
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- Dizziness when standing
- Mood changes
- Continued respiratory symptoms
- Continued loss of taste and smell
Why do people experience long COVID differently?
A challenging part of long COVID is that symptoms, and how severe they are, can vary widely from person to person.
“Because the COVID-19 virus affects all organ systems, so many different symptoms can arise both during the initial infection and as a long COVID infection,” Dr. Bruzzi said. “How your immune system is disrupted can also vary between individuals. Having a history of chronic illness may make one organ system more susceptible than another.”
Are some people more susceptible to long COVID than others?
Anyone who has had COVID-19 can get long COVID, regardless of their age or prior health conditions. However, a recent study suggested that older adults, women, those with a history of asthma and those with particular immune markers (proteins in our body that determine how well we can fight harmful infections) were more likely to experience long COVID.
“However, research continues in this area,” Dr. Bruzzi said. “Although the immune system is certainly an area of focus for investigators at this time, there are no current recommendations for blood tests that would help determine an immune system connection, and specific immune markers would not be used to confirm a long COVID diagnosis.”
Can vaccinations protect against long COVID?
Those who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccination are less likely to have severe illness or become hospitalized from the initial infection. Having your vaccination could also help protect against long COVID.
“Although anyone can experience long COVID syndrome, it is more likely for an individual who has experienced severe disease,” Dr. Bruzzi said. “A recent study found people were more at risk for long COVID when they experienced five or more symptoms during their initial infection.”
How long will it take for me to recover from long COVID?
It is currently unclear how long recovery from long COVID may take. “Since there is no pill or one specific treatment to treat long COVID, recovery times may be different for each person,” Dr. Bruzzi said. “Much of the current treatment is determined based on the symptoms experienced.”
Does exercise help or hurt long COVID?
“Exercise can always help patients,” Dr. Bruzzi said.
Considering exercise is known to improve heart conditions, lung conditions and improve mental health, it should always be considered as treatment for ongoing illness. However, as with any illness or condition, Bruzzi noted the importance of discussing with your health care provider before jumping into an exercise routine.
Because long COVID symptoms can vary, which health care provider should I see?
In order to get your symptoms addressed, it is best to meet with a physician who has experience and knowledge about long COVID.
“Research is being done and literature is being published rapidly,” Dr. Bruzzi said. “Connecting with an institution that has both primary care physicians and specialists committed to the treatment of long COVID will limit how much you are bounced around feeling frustrated, and instead get you the help you deserve.”
For additional resources regarding long COVID, check out:
- Banner Health Long COVID Treatment Program, call (844) 549-1854
- Long COVID Kids
- Resources for workers with long COVID, per the U.S. Department of Labor
Additional COVID-related articles:
- Does Physical Therapy Help in COVID-19 Recovery?
- Have COVID-19 You Could Be Eligible for Monoclonal Antibody Treatment
- Does COVID-19 Increase Your Risk of Stroke?