What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This disease causes respiratory symptoms and fever, and in severe cases it leads to breathing problems and even death. The virus is spread by activities that produce droplets, like coughing, sneezing or even talking. These droplets are released into the air. When someone inhales them or gets them inside their mouth, nose or eyes via their hands, they are infected with the virus. Mild or moderate COVID-19 lasts about two weeks for most people, but is that all of it?
What happens when COVID-19 symptoms don’t go away?
Some people experience lingering health problems even when they have recovered from the acute phase of the illness. These patients test negative for the coronavirus because there is no virus alive inside their body; nonetheless they still might be severely debilitated.
This problem has multiple names. The National Institutes of Health refers to long-term COVID-19 symptoms as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC). More common terms are post-COVID syndrome, long COVID or long-term COVID. People suffering from long COVID are known as “long haulers.”
Causes of symptoms in “long haulers”
COVID-19 can attack someone’s organs in a plethora of ways. The most common one is causing damage to the lungs but it can also affect the heart, the nervous system, the kidneys and the liver.
A spectrum of symptoms has been observed after acute COVID-19, some of which are minor, but there are also cases of people that need continuing care and readmission to the hospital. What’s interesting though is that it seems like post-COVID syndrome is not just afflicting people who were extremely sick from the virus but also people who were asymptomatic.
Symptoms of post-COVID syndrome
A severe case of COVID-19 can create scars and other permanent problems in the lungs. These result in persistent shortness of breath, especially when exercising.
The recovery of the lungs is possible but it takes time. In this case it can take several months before the lung’s function returns to normal levels. Breathing exercises and respiratory therapy are advised.
Heart problems can follow people who had COVID-19 infection, even those who had had a mild case and those who had no medical issues before they got infected. More than half of the people who got infected by SARS-CoV-2 had signs of ongoing heart inflammation, which basically leads to symptoms like shortness of breath, palpitations and rapid heartbeat. In some rare cases this inflammation led to death.
There is a possibility that the coronavirus infection will attack the kidneys. In this case, there is a raise in the risk of long term kidney disease, which can be handled by dialysis.
Lost or distorted senses of smell and taste:
It is universally known that COVID-19 can result in altered or lost senses of smell or taste. For about a quarter of people who had one or both of these symptoms, the problem resolved in a couple of weeks. But for most of them the symptoms persist and although they are not life threatening, they can cause lack of appetite, anxiety and depression. Most of these people will see improvement in their senses within a year.
Some people can develop medium to long-term symptoms following COVID infection. These include brain fog, fatigue, headaches and dizziness. The cause is unclear, which is why researchers are still investigating it.
Mental health issues:
Patients who were hospitalized have a particularly challenging recovery. Post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) puts COVID-19 survivors who spent time in the ICU at a higher risk for problems with mental health, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
by Ioannis Vavliakis