A concerning new study from the CDC shows one in five people who get COVID-19 will suffer long-term symptoms known as long COVID. "We're seeing a spectrum of symptoms after acute COVID-19, some of which would be expected after other critical illnesses," says Emily Brigham, M.D., M.P.H. "Some are minor, but other people may need continuing care and even readmission to the hospital." Here are the most common signs of long COVID, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Ongoing brain fog is a persistent symptom of long COVID. "Post COVID brain fog can appear in patients who are severely deconditioned and weak or have PTSD-like syndrome," says critical care medicine specialist Devang Sanghavi, MD. "The other type of brain fog is due to the long ICU stay, leading to post-ICU syndrome. A lot of these COVID patients stay in our healthcare system for quite a while, so the brain fog in some may be from staying in a hospital setting where their days and nights are getting mixed up and they have a lack of sleep, which leads to cognitive impairment."
"As we continue to learn about COVID-19, we're understanding more regarding how it affects the lungs during acute illness and afterward," says Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., M.H.S. "And this is especially true with the virus' ongoing variants, as well. In COVID-19-related bronchitis, this is an issue of an excessive amount of sputum produced in the airways, resulting in coughing and chest congestion. The sputum also narrows the airways, making breathing more difficult. As for the bronchitis, patients may experience a cough that stays with them for months after the initial infection. This frequent cough and ongoing chest congestion may have an impact on one's quality of life."
Long-term depression is a concerning symptom of long COVID. "The higher occurrence of depression and anxiety among patients with COVID-19 who spent seven days or longer bedridden could be due to a combination of worrying about long-term health effects as well as the persistence of physical long COVID symptoms well beyond the illness that limit social contact and may result in a sense of helplessness," says Ingibjörg Magnúsdóttir of the University of Iceland. "Equally, inflammatory responses among patients with a severe diagnosis may contribute to more persistent mental health symptoms. In contrast, the fact that individuals with a mild COVID-19 infection can return to normal lives sooner and only experience a benign infection likely contributes to the lower risk of negative mental health effects we observed."
Chronic fatigue is one of the most common signs of long COVID. "Fatigue is more than being worn out or sleepy," says Natasha Yates, Assistant Professor, General Practice, Bond University. "It's an excessive tiredness that persists despite resting or good sleep. It's likely a result of our body's strong immune response to the virus. But in some people the fatigue drags on even when the infection is gone. This can be debilitating and frustrating. Simply resting more makes no difference."
"Some individuals develop medium to long-term symptoms following COVID infection, including brain fog, fatigue, headaches and dizziness," says neurologist Arun Venkatesan, M.D., Ph.D. "The cause of these symptoms is unclear but is an active area of investigation."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.