Supporting Patients with Long-COVID – What to Look for and How to Treat Lingering COVID-19 Symptoms

Many people who have been infected with SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are still dealing with symptoms—something known as long-COVID. According to recent data, nearly one in five people who had COVID-19 still experience some symptoms.

Long-COVID can occur after being infected with the virus. It can be identified as early as four weeks from initial infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines long-COVID as occurringusually three months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.” Some symptoms may dissipate; sometimes they don’t.

Children tend to be less affected by long-COVID compared to adults. It’s difficult to say if symptoms resolve sooner than in adults, explained Rabia Agha, MD, director of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Maimonides Children’s Hospital in Brooklyn.

Even though research on long-COVID is sparse, studies on long-COVID with children are even more scarce. Symptoms tend to be the same for both populations, she said.

This condition can be frustrating to patients and health care providers alike—namely because we know so little about it. There is no single diagnostic test for long-COVID. That’s what makes diagnosing—and treating it—such a challenge.

Spotting Long-COVID

Though other studies, including federal data, say that women may be at a greater risk for long-COVID, recent research in Scientific Reports did not find a correlation between gender, age, race, and preexisting conditions. However being clinically obese puts the patient at a higher risk for long-COVID.

People who experienced headaches, sore throat, and hair loss during initial infection were more likely to have lingering symptoms, the researchers found.

Symptoms of Long-COVID

The most common symptoms of long-COVID, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include:

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Exacerbation of symptoms after physical or mental effort (or “post-exertional malaise”)
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (“brain fog”)
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness when you stand up
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

Symptoms that are less common: Joint or muscle pain, rashes, changes in menstrual cycles, hair loss, ejaculation difficulty, insomnia, blurry vision, and loss of appetite.

Treating Long-COVID

Effectively treating long-COVID has been a “work in progress,” according to Barbara Alvarez, MD, who specializes in infectious diseases and internal medicine. She sees patients at the Maimonides post-COVID clinic.

There’s no specific treatment, so doctors have to identify the conditions. They promote vaccination, because some studies show unvaccinated people can be at a higher risk of developing post-COVID conditions compared to vaccinated people who had breakthrough infections. Dr. Alvarez also encourages self-care including diet and physical activity, as well as mindfulness.

“It is not unusual to encounter patients who continue to exhibit symptoms despite evaluation and appropriate treatment. When this happens, we try to find different modalities to focus on improving symptoms,” Alvarez said.

Dr. Alvarez said the clinic is conducting research to evaluate patients with long-COVID.

Maimonides Health has comprehensive specialists available to treat wide-ranging symptoms of long-COVID. For more information, visit a post-COVID care center near you.

 

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