Less than a year after the novel coronavirus became a global pandemic, doctors and scientists are only beginning to learn what symptoms might linger after recovery. Yet it’s already clear that some patients are suffering from long-term conditions caused by their battle with COVID-19.
In a research paper published by the University of Pennsylvania, many signs of long-term COVID were revealed. Though Dr. Robert Kotloff, Director of Penn University’s Harron Lung Center, noted that there’s a great deal more to discover about chronic COVID-linked conditions. “We’re much better equipped to understand and treat the immediate complications of the infection. But we’re still learning about the patients who are beyond the acute infection and what lingering issues they’re going to have to deal with.”
There are at least nine symptoms that have emerged from this and other research as signs you’ve caught long-term COVID. Keep reading to learn what those signs are and why they may be hard to overcome. People who have or develop these symptoms well after recovery might deal with them for months or even years.
9. Trouble Swallowing
Post-recovery patients who suffered severe illness from COVID likely spent prolonged time hooked up to a ventilator. A common lasting symptom among this group is difficulty swallowing, due to prolonged use of ventilator tubing.
However, this lasting symptom is common with a wide variety of ICU patients, not just those with COVID-19. “We call this post-intensive care syndrome,” said Dr. Kotloff. Difficulty swallowing is part of a group of symptoms these patients often suffer from long after recovering from severe illnesses like influenza, sepsis, and now also coronavirus.
8. Profound Fatigue
Another sign you may have caught long-term COVID is having bouts of profound fatigue or weakness. This is especially true of the patients who spent a prolonged period in a hospital bed, where some of their muscles may have atrophied.
According to Dr. Kim Barker, Associate Professor for the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UT Southwestern, the average hospital patient with COVID-19 stays in bed about eight days. She explained in her article for UT Southwestern Medical Center that after eight days “a patient could lose 12% of their muscle strength.” Get the best sleep with these moisture-wicking pillows.
7. Lung Function Challenges
Lasting lung health issues are also signs of long-term COVID. Because coronavirus is a respiratory illness, the lungs can be significantly compromised in people who get very sick.
In an article for Johns Hopkins Medicine, lung disease expert Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos explained three risk factors for post-COVID lung damage. People with severe illness, pre-existing conditions (like COPD or heart disease), and those who didn’t receive optimal health care during the outbreak are at high risk for prolonged lung damage.
6. Neurological Issues
Recovering from severe illness with COVID-19 can come with another troubling prolonged symptom: conditions stemming from the brain.
Neurologist Dr. Joseph Berger, co-author of the Penn University research paper, witnessed post-recovery coronavirus patients with dizziness, headaches, confusion, and even behavioral changes that are puzzling. “It may be some sort of structural damage to the brain we’re not able to see,” Dr. Berger said. “We haven’t seen anything major on imaging studies and even spinal fluid examinations have not been terribly revealing.”
5. Shortness of Breath
Some people who weren’t considered critically ill with coronavirus have also been experiencing lasting symptoms, like shortness of breath. This symptom could be a sign of other serious respiratory conditions, including lung damage. Dr. Kotloff stated that “these cases are more curious” because these patients “had relatively mild infections, not even pneumonia, but come to us later with shortness of breath, and often with profound fatigue, but we can’t find anything physiological to account for these symptoms.” Purify the air in your house with this UV Air Purifier.
4. Chest X-Ray Shadows
Dr. Kotloff and other clinicians at Penn University run a Post-COVID Recovery Clinic, where another lasting symptom has them concerned: shadows found on patient chest x-rays. The work of determining the cause of these shadows is ongoing. “A number of these patients are coming to the clinic with shortness of breath and persistent shadows on chest X-rays,” Dr. Kotloff said. “The question in my mind is, do we watch and wait or would some of these patients benefit from corticosteroids.”
3. Abnormal Blood Clotting
Abnormal blood clots are some of the most troubling signs of long-term COVID. Though many post-virus symptoms often plague older people, strokes caused by blood clotting have been experienced by younger people after COVID recovery as well.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the COVID-19 virus acts on blood cells in such a way that “makes them more likely to clump up and form clots.” Blood vessels to the heart and brain can become blocked, leading to heart attack or stroke. The Mayo Clinic points out that blood vessels weakened by COVID-19 can also lead to liver and kidney problems. Keep an eye on your pulse with this Fingertip Oximeter.
2. Autoimmune Response
Some patients at the Post-COVID Recovery Clinic are experiencing an autoimmune response linked to long-term coronavirus symptoms. Dr. Berger explained this condition as an attack on the nervous system similar to that of Guillain-Barre, an autoimmune disease. “Even though [the coronavirus infection is] an acute insult that doesn’t continue, the response to it can leave patients with weakness and other neurological manifestation,” he explains. “But fortunately these are small numbers, very small numbers, of patients.”
He goes on to explain that a person’s stress response triggered by experiencing COVID-19 could also be responsible for bringing pre-existing mental illness to the surface.
1. Organ System Failure
Another founding clinician at Penn University’s Post-COVID Recovery Clinic, Dr. Benjamin Abramoff, noted that they have been seeing patients experiencing multi-organ system failure. This seems to be happening the most with patients who suffered severe illness from COVID-19 and had prolonged stays in the ICU.
Multi-organ system failure could include damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and more. The severity of these long-term COVID symptoms motivated the Penn University clinicians to create integrative programs to treat coronavirus survivors long after their infections are gone.Related: COVID-19 Surge: Dr. Fauci Says to “Hunker Down” This Fall