Long Covid: What are the long-term effects of Covid-19?

'Long Covid' is the extended period of illness that many thousands of Covid-19 survivors are experiencing long after the virus has gone. And while news of a Covid-19 vaccine is giving us all hope of a return to normal in 2021, for those recovering from the virus there are still complex challenges to overcome. 

What do we know so far about Long Covid?

Long Covid is a catch-all name for a long list of symptoms, both physically and emotionally.  Physical symptoms include difficulty breathing, difficulty walking and, weakness in the arms and legs, extreme tiredness, muscle and joint pain.  Emotional symptoms can include anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Symptoms vary enormously from person to person - both in terms of which symptoms a person has and the degree to which they experience them.

And because Long Covid is now affecting so many people, Tim Spector, Professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, has spoken about its potential to be a more serious public health problem than the excess deaths caused by coronavirus itself.

What are the symptoms of Long Covid?

Some of the many symptoms reported by Long Covid sufferers includes:

  • Cardiac or respiratory issues such as difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing or chest pain
  • Difficulty walking, exercising or performing daily tasks at home
  • Extreme tiredness and fatigue, commonly associated with chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Pain, discomfort or reduced function in muscles and joint pain
  • Cognitive changes, such as difficulty thinking or ‘brain fog', poor concentration and memory loss
  • Mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Gastrointestinal or digestion problems such as gastritis, abdominal pain or loss of appetite
  • Reduced or severely disrupted sleep
  • Prolonged loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Signs of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases

Who gets Long Covid?

While evidence is still emerging, Professor Spector recently said: “If you’ve got a persistent cough, hoarse voice, headache, diarrhoea, skipping meals, and shortness of breath in the first week, you are two to three times more likely to get longer-term symptoms.”

He also said that patterns in his team’s data suggest that Long Covid is about twice as common in women as in men and that the average age of someone presenting with it is about four years older than people who had what might be termed as 'short Covid'.

Where can I get help?

There’s growing awareness of a need to help the many thousands of people affected by Long Covid. Facebook support groups are being set up, and the NHS has created a dedicated resource area for survivors.

Specialist centres are also emerging. 

The Wellington Hospital has become one of the first centres in the UK to establish a Long Covid health recovery centre. Patients have an initial consultation with a medical specialist within 24 hours, followed by a range of investigations using assessments such as MRI, ultrasound, CT and lung function tests. 

A multidisciplinary team of experts from a broad range of specialities is then on hand to deliver Covid-19 aftercare - be that further investigations, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and more. Operating in this way means that sufferers can get holistic support with their full range of symptoms rather than be assessed and treated for each symptom individually.

Importantly, a Long Covid assessment can also rule out that symptoms aren’t being caused by another underlying health concern that’s been previously undiagnosed.

How long might my symptoms last?

For many survivors of Covid-19, recovery is hopefully fast and symptoms mild. If you are in this category, then the NHS advises a gradual return to daily activities.  You should follow the 3 P’s Principle – Pace, Plan and Prioritise. This helps you to conserve your energy when going about your daily activities and ensures you don’t overexert yourself.

If your symptoms do continue or worsen, that should not be ignored.

Some people with pre-existing medical conditions may find themselves feeling worse following Covid-19 for quite some time. Equally, some previously healthy individuals may also find themselves feeling the long-term effects of Covid-19, unable to reach their previous levels of activity. 

The good news is that many people will not have Covid-19-related problems for the rest of their lives, even after suffering from Long Covid. The important thing is to seek help. 

This article is a paid partnership with The Wellington Hospital’s Long Covid Health Recovery Centre. The team can be contacted on 020 7483 5348.

RELATED: KATIE'S BLOG: The Covid blame game

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