Home / Health Insurance / Articles / Understanding Long COVID: The continued effects of COVID-19

Understanding Long COVID: The continued effects of COVID-19

Team AckoDec 9, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic shook the world in 2020. In 2022, thanks to vaccines, social distancing, and other measures, people are warming up to the ‘new normal’. However, while most people recovered after contracting the infection, few others were not as lucky. One set of people continued to experience symptoms even months after the disease was treated. This phenomenon is termed Long COVID, and has many synonyms, like Post-COVID Sequelae, Post-COVID-19 Syndrome/Condition, Chronic COVID Syndrome (CCS), Post Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC). Read ahead to learn more about Long COVID.

Long covid

Contents

icon

What is Long COVID?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2021 has defined this condition as a post-COVID-19 condition occurring in individuals with:

  • SARS-COV-2 infection (past 3 months) 

  • Symptoms lasting for at least 2 months

  • Symptoms that are not explained by any other diagnosis

  • Common symptoms include fatigue, breathing difficulty, poor concentration & memory impairment, all impacting daily life, and routine activities.

To put it simply, Long COVID means that you got infected and never fully recovered from it. Studies showed that this was the case in 4 to 13% of the population.

What is the cause of Long COVID?

The exact cause for Long COVID is currently still unknown. Some studies have linked this with metabolic changes in the cell mitochondria.

However, there are some people who are more likely to develop Long COVID such as:

  • People with severe COVID-19 infection requiring intensive care.

  • People who developed COVID-19 complications such as multisystem disease.

  • People with pre-existing chronic health conditions.

  • People who did not receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

What are the symptoms of Long COVID?

Long COVID can manifest in many ways with varying features, duration, and severity. Most patients slowly show improvement with time, and this can be anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Uncommonly, post-COVID sequelae can turn into a disability. The most common symptoms of Long COVID include the following.

1. General Symptoms

  • Tiredness or fatigue, usually preventing one from continuing daily activities

  • Fatigue worsened by physical exertion

  • Fever

  • Joint pain

  • Skin rashes

  • Tinnitus (ringing of the ears)

2. Respiratory Symptoms

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Shortness of breath even with mild activity

  • Cough, with or without sputum

Severe COVID-19 disease causes scarring of the lungs, which can result in a longer duration of respiratory symptoms. However, these symptoms do resolve slowly, with the help of breathing exercises and physiotherapy. This process can take months.

3. Heart Symptoms

  • Palpitations (an awareness of one’s own heart beating rapidly)

  • Fast heart rate

  • Shortness of breath

Studies have shown some degree of heart tissue damage in nearly 60% of patients who had COVID, including mild cases of the disease with no underlying comorbidity.

4. Neuropsychiatric Symptoms

  • Poor concentration, difficulty in thinking (called ‘brain fog’)

  • Giddiness

  • Light-headed sensation on standing up (referred to as orthostatic hypotension)

  • Memory gaps

  • Numbness of limbs with pins-and-needles sensation

  • Low mood & depression

  • Anxiety

  • Headaches

  • Sleep difficulty, particularly loss of sleep (Insomnia)

  • Change in smell and taste, ranging from complete loss to distortion of senses

The exact mechanism by which the neurological symptoms occur is not known. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many social and psychological circumstances, such as the loss of loved ones, financial difficulties, seclusion, and loneliness. This has caused a lot of mental duress which can have long-term effects on the individual. 

5. Digestive Issues

6. Miscellaneous issues

  • Kidney problems (acute or chronic kidney failure)

  • Menstrual irregularity: missed or irregular cycles with irregular flow

  • Low libido

Post Intensive Care Syndrome

Post Intensive Care Syndrome that is experienced by people who undergo a long hospital stay, particularly in the ICU for severe COVID-19 disease. These patients also continue to experience symptoms for a long time after recovery. 

The ICU, particularly during COVID, is a very isolating experience for someone admitted there. Contact with family is cut off almost completely at a time when it is needed the most. This led some patients to develop ICU psychosis: a condition associated with delirium, hallucinations, and commonly, fear of persecution by the medical professionals treating them. These patients require additional support during their recovery period and often have a long duration of rehabilitation. Despite this, some people are unable to recover from the trauma completely. If you know someone who had a difficult COVID-19 recovery, don’t hesitate to reach out to make sure they are doing okay.

Can Long COVID occur in children?

Yes. Children can experience fatigue, poor school work, breathing issues, headaches, sleep disturbances, etc. Another cause for concern in kids is a condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome:  Children (MIS-C). It is a rare, but serious condition requiring hospitalisation, sometimes even to the ICU. In MIS-C, there is widespread inflammation affecting multiple parts of the body, like the heart, eyes, brain, lungs, digestive organs, etc. MIS-C requires medical attention, and it is important to make sure children are attended to by a paediatrician as early as possible.

Can vaccines prevent Long COVID?

The debate surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine was no small matter. A lot of people were scared of taking a new vaccine whose side effects weren’t entirely known. Others used social media to educate people about the benefits of the vaccine.

The good news is that (approved) vaccines were found to be greatly effective in decreasing the incidence and severity of Long COVID. A fully vaccinated individual is less likely to develop a severe COVID infection as well.

Conversely, unvaccinated individuals record high incidences of Long COVID, with prolonged recovery periods and other complications.

Preventing COVID infection is also the best way to prevent Long COVID. Continuing to follow hand hygiene, usage of personal protective equipment like masks in crowded public spaces, and taking the vaccine as recommended by the governing health body are all effective preventive measures.

What is the treatment of Long COVID?

Treatment of this condition focuses on rest & rehabilitation for adequate recovery. There are no specific protocols established yet for the treatment of Long COVID. It is mostly about controlling symptoms as they appear. Some studies show oral steroids to be effective but further research is needed.

Breathing exercises, physical exercises, a balanced nutritious diet, and physical therapy have all shown great results in decreasing the duration of Long COVID. Regular mental health evaluation, with counselling and psychiatric support, is an important part of this recovery process. 

Patients who contract COVID are usually asked to follow-up after 6 to 8 weeks to assess their recovery and intervene if required. COVID-19 disease is still, in a way, a global burden. Vaccination is perhaps the single most important way to decrease the occurrence as well as the severity of the disease. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Long COVID.

Icon

How often do people get Long COVID?

Almost half the patients diagnosed with COVID infections were found to have some continued symptoms at the end of one month.

How long do the symptoms of Long COVID last?

The exact answer is still unclear. Symptoms can resolve in four weeks or continue for up to 6 months. 

How do I know if I have Long COVID?

There is no exact test to diagnose Long COVID. If your COVID symptoms are distressing and affect your daily activities even three months after the infection, you may have Long COVID.

Does Acko Provide Covid-19 Insurance?

Yes, Acko does provide Covid-19 Insurance please check the link.

Can Long COVID be prevented?

Your general health plays a major role in determining the chance of getting Long COVID. However, once you contract the infection, there is no real way to prevent long-term complications. The vaccine has been found to be effective in some studies.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

Articles related to Different Diseases

icon

Want to post any comments?

icon

All hospital expenses*, 100% covered

✓ Zero waiting period ✓ Zero deductions at claim