The latest spike in COVID hospitalizations and deaths should serve as a powerful reminder of just how serious this infection can be. And that seriousness isn’t restricted just to severe cases or older adults or people with underlying health conditions. Even mild or moderate cases can lead to what’s been called long or chronic COVID, a/k/a long-hauler syndrome.
Most people who get COVID-19, of course, get better with time. However, some continue to experience symptoms long after the infection has resolved. If they last four weeks or longer, per the CDC, it’s a case of long COVID. And here’s the kicker:
Even people who did not have COVID-19 symptoms in the days or weeks after they were infected can have post-COVID conditions. These conditions can have different types and combinations of health problems for different lengths of time. [emphasis added]
In fact, recent research has identified more than 200 symptoms associated with long COVID, with patients, on average, experiencing 55.9 symptoms involving 9.1 organ systems. They include things like brain fog, continued loss of taste or smell, fatigue, headaches, balance problems, breathing troubles, coughs, and joint or muscle pain. According to one study,
The most frequent symptoms after month 6 were fatigue (98.3%), post-exertional malaise (89%) and cognitive dysfunction (85.1%). These symptoms varied in their prevalence over time. Other symptoms included visual hallucinations, tremors, itchy skin, menstrual cycle changes, sexual dysfunction, heart palpitations, bladder control issues, shingles, memory loss, blurred vision, diarrhea and tinnitus, according to the researchers.
Almost all (96%) said their symptoms lasted more than 3 months; nearly two-thirds (65%) reported them lasting beyond 6 months. Roughly half said they’d had to limit their hours at work because of it.
One-quarter of all those infected with SARS-CoV-2 become long-haulers, though generally more women than men. Those who develop more than 5 symptoms in the first week of their initial infection are also more prone to developing long COVID syndrome.
A recent paper gives further insight to who is being affected by long COVID and how, via a discussion of the first 100 patients that the Mayo Clinc treated for it. This clip will give you a good overview:
So, yes. It’s serious. It can really take a good portion of your life away from you, as patients who’ve had it can explain. We urge you to read some of the patient stories collected here. You’ll see that even people who led healthy, active lives have been disabled by this syndrome.
Recovery is possible, though. Here in our integrative clinic, one of the things Dr. Joe really focuses on with long COVID patients is the issue of inflammation and how it can be controlled to help symptoms resolve so individuals can get back on their feet and back to life. Intravenous therapies, for one, have been very successful, along with oral supplements designed for anti-inflammatory and neurological support.
As always, though, the specific course of treatment can differ from person to person. That’s because no two cases are the same. Long COVID can present very differently in different people; hence, the need for customized treatment.
Often, that means also identifying any underlying conditions that may be fueling the health crisis. In fact, one of Dr. Joe’s specialties is doing that investigative work to suss out any contributing barriers to health, whether inflammatory or autoimmune; toxic burdens or low grade chronic viral infections.
His work with long-haulers offers daily reminders that recovery from chronic COVID is possible. As one patient (not Dr. Joe’s) described her experience to Time Magazine,
“I’m able to be active. I’m able to go out for walks more, work in the yard. I can drive now because my cognition is better. I have independence back.”
And with each day her symptoms recede, [she] says, she can more clearly envision a future without COVID-19, something that seemed impossible just six months ago.
Meantime, let’s each continue to do what we can to keep ourselves and our communities as safe as possible: get vaccinated, mask and distance as required, wash your hands often, and keep up as healthy a lifestyle as you can to support your total wellness – body, mind, and spirit.