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If You Feel This, You May Have Already Had COVID, Says CDC

This strange symptom can last for months.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

As vaccination rates climb and some states loosen restrictions, health officials have repeatedly stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over. One group, in particular, can't yet put the coronavirus behind them: People who are experiencing long-term symptoms, also known as "long-haulers." Suffering from post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), many of the long-term symptoms are similar to those of a cold or flu. But one is fairly unique: "brain fog," or difficulty with thinking and concentration. Read on to see if you have it—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Brain Fog Can Be a Sign You Have Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection

Anna Nordvig, MD, a neurologist with Columbia University Medical Center, described COVID-related brain fog as "specific thinking and behavior problems—they forget the names of people they know well, they can't follow along during business conversations, prioritizing and planning is suddenly difficult, they are inexplicably anxious and sleep poorly." She said some patients with brain fog only had a mild case of COVID and have no other long-term symptoms.

"These are young and middle-aged people who were previously thriving," said Nordvig. "Now they are having profound changes in the way they think and feel. They're worried about their careers, if this persists."

 "The good news," said Nordvig, "is that most of the patients we're seeing are getting better."

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Wide Range of Long-Haul Symptoms

According to the CDC, the most commonly reported long-term COVID symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain and chest pain.

Brain fog, or difficulty with thinking and concentration is in the CDC's list of "other reported long-term symptoms," along with depression, muscle pain, headache, intermittent fever and heart palpitations. 

"The long-term significance of these effects is not yet known," the CDC says.

Experts have been aware of the long-hauler phenomenon since early in the pandemic, but they've named it only recently: PASC, for post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Congress has allocated $1.5 billion over four years for the National Institutes of Health to study long COVID, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease specialist, said during a briefing by the White House COVID-19 response team last week.

"Somewhat alarming" is what Fauci called a recent study from the University of Washington, which found that 30% of people who've had COVID have symptoms for as long as nine months after their initial illness.

There are many questions to be answered about long-term symptoms; their exact cause is unclear. In the case of brain fog, experts theorize it could be due to the widespread inflammation COVID-19 seems to cause throughout the body. If you experience any combination of these 98 symptoms, contact a medical professional. Although there is no cure for PASC, doctors may be able to treat certain symptoms. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael