What is long COVID and how can you manage the symptoms?
When COVID-19 was first discovered, its main symptoms were quickly learned – a persistent cough, a temperature and a loss of taste or smell being the main ones.
What isn’t as well-known though, are the symptoms associated with long term COVID.
What is long COVID?
Long COVID is the term given for the series of symptoms you may continue suffering from once you have recovered from the initial COVID infection. Studies to date have shown that long COVID symptoms may be wide ranging and varied, often reappearing and then disappearing again in a series of waves. While symptoms can be new, many long COVID symptoms are similar to those you might experience during the initial infection and can include:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Heart palpitations
- Pins and needles
- Joint pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Tinnitus, earaches
- Feeling sick, diarrhea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
How common is long COVID?
If you have had COVID-19, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to get long COVID too. Statistically, you are more likely to suffer if you are female and younger than 70, with symptoms five weeks after testing positive being the highest in the 35-49 age bracket. This still doesn’t mean that you will necessarily suffer from it though.1
Just how ‘long’ is long COVID?
With a relatively new virus, it’s understandable that the answer to this is not always clear. We are still learning how long it can take to recover from COVID-19, but if you have been experiencing symptoms for more than 4-weeks, or have started experiencing new symptoms, it’s possible that you have long term COVID.2
From statistics currently available, it seems that people may suffer from long COVID for as long as, and in some cases longer than, 6-months.3
In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that almost 700,000 people experienced long COVID for at least 12 weeks and of those, almost 475,000 experienced it for over 6 months. In fact, around 70,000 were still experiencing symptoms one year after the initial infection.1
What to do if you think you have long COVID
As there are multiple symptoms, it’s always wise to speak to a medical professional to rule out any other conditions before diagnosing yourself with long COVID. Depending on your symptoms you might be given blood tests, blood pressure and heart checks or x-rays.
There is no specific treatment for long COVID, but there are positive steps you can take to manage your symptoms. The NHS has launched a long COVID service which offers advice on where to find support.4 This recovery service recognizes the importance of looking after your physical and mental wellbeing and helps with managing your symptoms, getting back into physical activity and focusing on your diet. It’s important to be kind to yourself and pace yourself physically, without feeling pressure to get back into things too quickly. Tell your friends and family how you are feeling and if you find some days harder than others, tell them that too. Recovery from COVID can be unpredictable but try to stay strong and positive. You beat the initial infection and given time; you will start to feel yourself again.