Understanding COVID-19’s Lasting Symptoms

When you’re sick, there’s nothing you look forward to more than getting better. Suddenly the idea feeling “normal” again is all you can think about, so you hold out hope that your symptoms will subside quickly.

But for some people who had COVID-19 — about 10 percent according to Brian Kaminski, DO, CPPS, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and vice president of quality and patient safety at ProMedica — symptoms can stick around longer. Referred to as “long-haulers,” these individuals still have symptoms at least four weeks after they first got COVID-19 — and some continue to experience symptoms for far longer.

Common Lingering Symptoms

Every person with long-term COVID-19 symptoms may have them for a different amount of time. “Some people haven’t completely recovered and had the infection over a year ago,” says Dr. Kaminski. “While others get a mild version and recover quickly and completely.”

COVID-19 long-term symptoms can include:

  • Loss of taste and smell. One of the hallmarks of COVID-19 is that people report a loss of taste and smell, sometimes for six months or more. The majority of people who have that symptom do regain their sense of taste and smell eventually though.
  • Psychological changes. Symptoms like anxiety and depression can be long-hauler symptoms that worsen when your physical body isn’t recovering quickly. While you may think of things as physical vs. mental, they are often connected.
  • Worsening of a condition you already had. If you had a medical condition before you got COVID-19, your long-term symptoms may be here to stay. For example, COVID-19 symptoms can permanently worsen conditions like dementia, heart disease, COPD, emphysema, congestive heart failure and more.

Of all your body’s systems, your brain, lungs and heart tend to be most affected by COVID-19. Other long-lasting symptoms may include:

  • Blood clots.
  • Cough.
  • Chest pain.
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating (“brain fog”).
  • Dizziness when standing up.
  • Fatigue.
  • Faster heart rate.
  • Headache.
  • Joint pain.
  • Memory problems.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Sleep disturbances.

A Note on Blood Clots

Dr. Kaminski believes the media underreports blood clotting with COVID-19. Both adults and children should watch out for symptoms of blood clots, which can develop early on as part of the initial infection or later on as a long-hauler symptom, can be very dangerous.

Stroke-like symptoms, such as sudden chest pain or shortness of breath could indicate a blood clot in your lungs. Similarly, a tender, swollen and painful lower leg could indicate a blood clot in your leg. If you have any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately.

Concerning Symptoms in Children

Kids respond differently than adults to coronavirus: Their bodies tend to handle the virus much better since they usually only develop a mild version of the disease. Even so, it’s important to know that children with COVID-19 can also develop long-term complications.

Kids who’ve had COVID-19 are also at risk for a rare condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), which can cause inflammation of the lungs, kidneys, heart, brain, eyes, skin or gastrointestinal organs. While the exact cause of this condition isn’t known, there does seem to be a connection between MIS-C and kids who’ve had COVID-19.

“But it’s very rare to see a case. In fact, MIS-C develops in less than one percent of kids that get COVID-19” says Dr. Kaminski.

Still, it’s a serious condition and can even be deadly. That’s why it’s important to seek medical care if your child shows any signs and to understand that it happens in otherwise healthy children with no underlying medical conditions. Talk with your pediatrician if your child has:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Fatigue.
  • Neck pain.
  • Persistent fever.
  • Rash.
  • Vomiting.

Seek emergency care right away if your child:

  • Complains of chest pain or pressure or severe abdominal pain.
  • Experiences sudden confusion or disorientation.
  • Has difficulty breathing.
  • Is unable to stay awake.
  • Shows signs of stroke.

The good news is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most children who develop MIS-C but receive medical care to treat it, get better.

Handling Long-term Symptoms

“Most people are recovering from home,” says Dr. Kaminski. “But if any sudden or severe symptoms come on, such as stroke signs or chest pain, you should seek care immediately at an emergency department.”

If your symptoms are milder, a visit to your primary care provider is appropriate. And, depending on your symptoms, your primary care doctor may send you to a specialist, like a pulmonologist, to help you with the lingering effects of long haul COVID-19.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your unique situation and symptoms. They can diagnose you and create an individualized care plan.

To find a primary care provider at ProMedica, visit ProMedica.org.