Since the beginning of this pandemic, the focus has been on disseminating information about COVID-19, implementing the prevention measures, tracing or identifying those infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, providing them with appropriate treatment until they test negative for COVID-19 and ensuring that they do not get infected with the virus again once they’ve recovered.
This attention has played a vital role in controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus infection in many parts of the world, though many countries including India still face monumental challenges.
But scientists and doctors, mostly based in the UK, are beginning to now urge the global community to also focus on something called long COVID and even the World Health Organisation (WHO) is beginning to take note and initiate action against it.
So, what is long COVID and why do you need to know about it urgently?
What is long COVID?
The fact that some symptoms of COVID-19 can be debilitating is well known. It is also known that some symptoms like cough, breathlessness, brain fog and fatigue may linger for a while after you have tested negative for COVID-19.
However, patients who recovered early on are now noting that their symptoms often last for months on end despite the infection itself abating quickly.
This suggests that these patients are not actually recovering from COVID-19 and may have other complications or morbidities too. This long-term experience of debilitating symptoms is being referred to as long COVID.
The most noticeable finding till date about long COVID is that you don’t need to have suffered from severe COVID to get this condition. Previously healthy adults who had mild symptoms and recovered from COVID-19 without ever needing intensive care are also reporting these symptoms two-three months later.
Long COVID is a patient-made term, first used by Elisa Perego (a research associate at the University College London) in May 2020 to describe her own COVID-19 experience.
But since then, so many patients have reported similar experiences that in August 2020, even the WHO took note and discussed the need to focus on long COVID as a separate disease with researchers and experts associated with the UK’s National Health Service, British Medical Journal (BMJ) and others.
What are the symptoms of long COVID?
A BMJ article published in October 2020 underlines the importance of using the term long COVID instead of the other terms commonly used by studies to describe long COVID symptoms like post-acute COVID-19, post-COVID syndrome and chronic COVID-19.
This, the experts suggest, is so that patients reporting these symptoms don’t feel like they are being dismissed or their claims delegitimised.
They also highlight the fact that there are many symptoms associated with long COVID, most of which are not mild. The following are just some of the symptoms reported by patients.
Profound fatigue: As the most commonly reported symptom that persists for months, fatigue can affect everything from your physical health to mental health.
A recent article published in Nature recommends that comparison of fatigue due to long COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome is needed to better understand this condition.
Cardiovascular issues: A high frequency of COVID-19 patients have been observed to be suffering from post-viral or inflammatory myocarditis, which can not only lead to sustained arrhythmias but also to heart failure in the future.
Others: Other symptoms of long COVID include breathlessness, a cough that won’t go away, muscle aches, headaches. Mental health and neurological studies also indicate cognitive decline and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) may also occur in patients.
What needs to be done?
Doctors and experts associated with BMJ recommend that if you are not recovering from COVID-19: that is, if your symptoms aren’t going away or are getting worse even after testing negative for the infection then consult a doctor immediately.
Be very clear about the post-COVID care you have been taking and the duration, intensity and frequency of your symptoms. Specialist investigations and monitoring may be required for patients with long COVID.
It is also recommended that you slow down if you have long COVID. Pace yourself and your activities, let your body and mind recuperate properly instead of jumping into your regular life.
Not slowing down will only make your condition worse. Remember that COVID-19 is a new disease and conditions like long COVID will take some time to be thoroughly studied and have solutions for.
For more information, read our article on Post-COVID Care.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.