In the last two years of the pandemic, more than 517 million were infected with COVID-19. Most of them recovered from the infection but some continued to face health issues even after months of testing negative. These symptoms are part of post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PACS) which is commonly known as Long COVID. Those who suffer from Long COVID often call themselves ‘long haulers’.
Almost 40% of COVID survivors suffer from long-term impact of the infection one month after the infection, according to a University of Michigan study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases on 22 April 2022. According to its findings, it is estimated that there are more than 200 million people who are suffering from Long COVID across the world.
Various studies show that those who have been hospitalised for COVID-19 had a higher chance of suffering from Long COVID. Also those who suffered from severe COVID-19 are more likely to suffer from it than those who had a mild infection. Similarly some studies suggest unvaccinated individuals are more likely to suffer from Long COVID than those who are fully vaccinated.
The Michigan study, mentioned earlier, reviewed 50 studies from 17 countries and found that Asians (49%) followed by Europeans (44%) and those in North America (39%) had more likelihood of suffering from Long COVID. It also found that women (49%) had a higher likelihood of suffering from it than men (37%).
Pre-existing conditions like Asthma increased the likelihood of Long Covid. Other risk factors identified in the study were initial illness, older age and underlying conditions like obesity and hypothyroidism.
The most common symptom in the review was found to be fatigue which was found in 23% of the survivors followed by memory problems (14%), shortness of breath (13%), sleep problems (11%), and joint pain (10%).
Across the world, prevalence of Long COVID was 37% after 1 month of diagnosis, 25% at 2 months, 32% at 3 months and 49% at 4 months according to the Michigan study.
Another study published in the medical journal The Lancet in July 2021 showed that 91% of Long haulers took 35 weeks or about 9 months to recover. Researchers surveyed nearly 4,000 sufferers with confirmed or suspected COVID from nearly 60 countries, with illness of a month or longer. During their illness, survivors experienced symptoms across nine organ systems. The most frequent symptoms after six months were fatigue, post exertional weakness and cognitive dyfunction like memory loss, problems with attention span and problem solving.
Long Covid can be varied and can impact different people differently. In the Lancet study, participants experienced anything from ear numbness, vision loss, reduced sensitivity to medicines, new allergies, suicide ideation and facial paralysis.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, following symptoms are reported by long haulers.
● Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
● Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
● Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
● Chest pain
● Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
● Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
● Sleep problems
● Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
● Pins-and-needles feelings
● Change in smell or taste
● Depression or anxiety
● Stomach pain
● Joint or muscle pain
● Changes in menstrual cycles
Source: US CDC
Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome or POTS is a condition where heart rate increases by at least 30 beats per minute after a person moves from sitting or lying down to standing. This is because their autonomic nervous system is unable to control their blood pressure and heart rate to make for your change in posture. There is recent evidence that those who have had COVID-19 are vulnerable to be POTS.
It is now emerging that even children are affected by Long COVID. Some of the symptoms that children show are different from adults. Usually children have complained of chest pain, cough fatigue, joint pain, loss of smell or taste and memory fog.
Treating Long COVID is not straightforward or simple since it manifests differently for different people. Some of the symptoms may get better with time and others would require medical assistance. With growing awareness, there are doctors and clinics that specialise in helping people with Long COVID manage their symptoms.
Modify the way you work: You may need to take breaks between your work days to take care of your fatigue. Find what time in the day you feel most refreshed and aim to finish a major chunk of your work at that time. Speak to your colleagues and boss if you need more time to finish work and ask for help whenever you need it.
Get good sleep: In order to recover, you need to give your body good 7-8 hours of restful sleep. Use a fitness app to track your sleep to monitor if you are getting deep sleep. Reduce stress, keep away gadgets in the evening and exercise to maintain good sleep hygiene.
Seek help: Long COVID can leave you feeling tired, frustrated and lonely but know that help is available. Speak to a doctor well-versed with treating post COVID symptoms and ask for help. Seek help from a psychologist if you feel low. Get a physiotherapist’s help to begin working out gradually. Speak to your friends and family and tell them about how you are feeling, their support will be crucial in your recovery.
Get a health check up: If you find yourself suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned above long after your infection, it is a good idea to go for a full body health check up that can give you a status update on the health of your body and help your doctors pinpoint the exact cause that is causing the symptoms.
To join the Long COVID India Survivors group on telegram: https://t.me/+3SHOL_cmzpkyYzdl
Follow @LongCOVIDIndia on twitter for latest news
For more information on Long COVID, go to https://www.wearebodypolitic.com/covid-19
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