A recent CDC study shows that one in five people will experience long-term post-COVID symptoms. "This is real, definable, and causes significant patient suffering," says Bruce Levy of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "The majority of people who got acutely infected felt totally normal before they had their infection, and now they don't feel normal. That's jarring." Here are the symptoms of long COVID most people report—including the one that lasts longest. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Brain fog is a commonly reported symptom of long COVID, experts say. "As a neurologist working in the COVID Survivorship Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, I find that my patients all have similar issues. It's hard to concentrate, they say. They can't think of a specific word they want to use, and they are uncharacteristically forgetful," says Tamara Fong, MD, PhD. "Those who come to our cognitive clinic are among the estimated 22% to 32% of patients who recovered from COVID-19, yet find they still have brain fog as part of their experience of long COVID, or post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC), as experts call it."
Loss of Smell
A loss of (or distorted sense of) smell—known as parosmia—is one of the more commonly reported symptoms of long COVID. "Some of these people have severe loss, meaning they're not able to smell or taste anything at all," says Omar Danoun, M.D., a neurologist at Henry Ford Health System. "Others have mild to moderate loss of smell and taste, where they're able to detect only strong aromas. Or they can only smell things close up."
Vaccinations and Long COVID
While vaccinations cannot "cure" long COVID, they are crucial in both prevention and in lessening virus symptoms. "What is reassuring is that patients who were vaccinated, in those rare instances where they got a breakthrough infection, those patients are 50% less likely to develop long COVID or post COVID syndrome," says Devang Sanghavi, MD. "The vaccines are effective. But in those rare instances where you do get an infection despite vaccination, this protects you from having post-COVID syndrome—there's a double insurance."
#1 Symptom That Lasts the Longest
Fatigue is the most common symptom of long COVID that can last for months—if not years—post-infection. "We know some symptoms are more common than others—like a persistent lack of smell is pretty common, and also fatigue, to some level," says Dr. Petter Brodin, COVID researcher, professor of pediatric immunology, and pediatrician at the Imperial College of London. "I think most adults can relate to some degree of persistent fatigue after a serious infection, the flu or some other thing. If you ask people if they have Long COVID and that's the kind of fatigue they're describing, I can understand why 80% say yes."
Who Is Most Likely To Get Long COVID?
A new unpublished study from 23andMe confirms reports that women are more likely to experience long COVID symptoms. The study also indicated that more than half of those who reported a long COVID diagnosis already had underlying health conditions such as heart attack or diabetes. "We're able to paint a more complete picture of the COVID experience than would be possible from just using medical records," says genetic epidemiologist Dr. Stella Aslibekyan. "One hypothesis positions long COVID as an autoimmune condition, in which the immune system is attacking the body's own tissues." 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.