Long COVID Symptoms: Long-Term Effects of COVID
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- Long COVID is defined as the continuation or development of symptoms 3 months after being infected with the virus that persist for at least 2 months longer.
- About 1 in 13 people who get COVID-19 will experience long COVID – about 7.5%.
- People who are severely ill with COVID have an increased risk of developing long COVID.
The symptoms of an infection with the coronavirus may linger after your recovery. If this is the case, you might have long COVID. You may experience many symptoms due to long COVID. This means the illness can affect people differently. At this moment, scientists are still investigating this condition, although there are some things that we already know.
What is long COVID?
When COVID symptoms persist well beyond the infection period, they are considered to be post-COVID symptoms, or long COVID symptoms. These are also referred to by other names, including:
- Long-haul COVID
- Post-acute COVID-19
- Post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC)
- Long-term effects of COVID
- Chronic COVID
These health problems can vary greatly from person to person and can persist for weeks, months, or even longer. These symptoms may have physical and psychological effects, as you may feel unable to do the activities you used to before COVID-19. On top of that, understanding and explaining your symptoms may be a difficult task.
- People who have been severely ill due to COVID-19
- People with underlying health issues
- People who haven’t been vaccinated
- People who experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome during or after COVID-19.
Long COVID can have a debilitating effect on your day-to-day routines. It can hinder your ability to work, attend school, socialize, and even engage in normal everyday activities. One study estimates that decreased employment related to long COVID has resulted in billions of dollars in lost income.2 In fact, in July 2021, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognized it as an official disability if the symptoms of long COVID impact major life activities, such as:3
- Caring for oneself
- Performing manual tasks
- interacting with others
Which symptoms are possible with long COVID?
- Brain fog, which makes it difficult to think clearly or to concentrate
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feelings of pins and needles
- Change in smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Tinnitus (a ringing sound in the ears) or earaches
Most people already experience these symptoms during their infection with the coronavirus. However, there are also people who develop long COVID symptoms that they didn’t notice during their infection. The symptoms of long COVID may also get worse after physical or mental effort.
How long do symptoms of long COVID last?
Symptoms of long COVID may last for weeks to months after recovery from the virus. The duration of the symptoms varies greatly amongst patients, and scientists are still investigating why some people do not fully recover after their infection. In some cases, post-COVID symptoms improve for a while and come back again at a later time. 1
In general, doctors speak of long COVID if your symptoms have carried on for over 4 weeks after your original infection with the coronavirus. It may also be that you develop new health problems after your recovery from COVID-19.
Most people recover from long COVID within 12 weeks, although the symptoms may last longer for some people. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the impact they have on your life, you can get treatment or get advice on how to monitor and manage your symptoms. 4
How is long COVID diagnosed?
To date, there's no test to diagnose long COVID. To come up with a proper diagnosis, your general practitioner will ask you about your COVID symptoms and their duration. As many of these symptoms are quite generic, it’s important to rule out any other conditions that may be causing the symptoms you are experiencing. To do so, your doctor will suggest running a few tests that can shed light on the cause of your symptoms.
These tests vary according to what you are experiencing, but generally include: 4
- Blood tests
- A check-up of your blood pressure and heart rate
- A chest X-ray
- Measurement of your oxygen levels.
What can you do if you have long COVID?
If you have long COVID, your doctor may suggest certain treatment options, depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing. Besides that, there are a few actions that you can take to feel better and to support your recovery. In general, it’s important to:
- Eat well
- Sleep well
- Start moving again
- Manage your daily activities
- Get the necessary mental support
- Get treatment for specific symptoms after discussing them with your doctor.
There are some post-COVID symptoms that may make it difficult for you to eat, such as: 5
- A loss of taste and smell
- Being out of breath
- Problems swallowing
- A dry mouth
- Stomach aches or a feeling of being sick
- Constipation or diarrhea
Although you may not feel like cooking healthily or eating, it’s important to do so. Getting your daily dose of nutrients is necessary for the body to recover from the infection with coronavirus. Eating healthy food can help rebuild your muscles, improve your immune system and support your body in its recovery. For a nutritious diet, eat food from the following 4 main food groups: 5
- Carbohydrates such as bread and potatoes
- Fruit and vegetables
- Protein, for example, fish, chicken, beans
- Dairy, such as milk or yogurt
Your doctor or dietician can help provide additional support and advice for healthy eating, especially if you follow a certain diet like vegetarian or vegan. If you are still losing weight and you feel weak or tired, then you should speak to your general practitioner.
COVID-19 may have altered your sleeping pattern because of the medication used to treat the infection or because you haven’t seen enough natural daylight during your illness, which is necessary to make you feel sleepy. There are also certain post-COVID symptoms that can make it difficult to sleep, such as: 6
- Being out of breath
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Anxiety and worrying
To improve your sleep again, try to do as follows: 6
- Create a routine with set hours of going to sleep and waking up
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Avoid drinking coffee, alcohol, tea, or fizzy drinks before going to bed
- Avoid smoking, eating, using your smartphone or laptop, or exercising in the hours before going to bed.
Start moving again
If you’ve been severely ill due to COVID-19, then it’s likely that you have been less active for some time. It may seem difficult to start exercising regularly again, especially if you’re struggling with persisting long COVID symptoms. Being active can have a positive impact on a number of post-COVID signs: 7
- Regular physical activity will make you feel stronger and more energetic and will have a positive effect on your mental state
- Walking will help you with joint pain and stiffness
- Being active combined with eating well can help speed up your recovery
- Regular exercise reduces the risk of long-term health problems in general
After a long period of being physically inactive, it's important to start exercising slowly and gradually build up the pace. Setting small goals can help you regain your strength and recover faster. Plan rest breaks between activities to give your body time to recover.
Long COVID symptoms can be very diverse and can significantly impact your daily activities. They're more common in people who have been severely ill or hospitalized due to a SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, anyone may experience post-COVID symptoms, even those who didn't experience any symptoms during the infection.
Although most symptoms go away on their own or with certain treatment options suggested by your doctor, it may be helpful to make some adaptations to your lifestyle, such as eating healthily, being more active, and sleeping well. These changes may help speed up your recovery and help you manage your daily activities.
Q: How long does it take to get over COVID-19?
A: Most people recover from COVID within 4 weeks. For some, the symptoms last longer. In most cases, these persisting symptoms eventually go away within 12 weeks, although in other cases, they last longer.
Q: How long do lingering symptoms last after COVID-19?
A: Lingering symptoms after COVID-19 usually last for about 12 weeks. If your symptoms persist afterward, you should contact your doctor.
Q: What is long COVID brain fog?
A: Long COVID brain fog means you have difficulty memorizing and concentrating. It may feel as if there’s a “fog” around your thoughts, making it difficult to think clearly.
Q: What are some of the long-term symptoms of COVID-19?
A: Some of the most frequent long-term symptoms of COVID-19 are fatigue, headaches, loss of smell or taste, cough, muscle aches, and joint pain.
Q: What are COVID long haulers?
A: COVID long haulers are a synonym for post-COVID symptoms. These are the symptoms that persist or that appear after your recovery from the infection with the coronavirus.
Q: What percent of people get long COVID?
A: According to the CDC, about 7.5% of US adults who were infected with the virus have long COVID symptoms, meaning symptoms that last 3 months or more. Long COVID symptoms are more common in people who suffered from severe COVID-19 illness, but anyone who had the virus can develop long COVID.8
Q: How do you avoid long COVID if you have COVID?
A: The best way to prevent long COVID is to avoid getting COVID in the first place. Get yourself vaccinated and practice social distancing and masking when necessary.
Q: Is long COVID contagious?
A: No. Long COVID is the body’s response to the virus that exceeds the initial illness. You’re not contagious beyond the normal period of infection.
Q: Is long COVID a disability?
A: Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes long COVID as an official disability if the symptoms interfere with major life activities.
Q: Can you recover from long COVID?
A: Just like COVID symptoms and their duration, recovery from long COVID will vary.