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COVID Symptoms That May Last Forever

Virus can cause long-term problems.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Soon after the COVID pandemic began, doctors made a concerning discovery: Some people diagnosed with COVID-19 were clearing the virus after a short time, but they weren't feeling better. It's dubbed "long COVID," and online support groups, researchers and government-funded groups are scrambling to figure out what causes it and develop effective treatments or cures. Answers and relief for the chronically sick are in short supply right now. Also scary: "None of us can predict who's going to have persistent symptoms," Lekshmi Santhosh, MD, the medical director of a long-COVID clinic at UC San Francisco, told The Atlantic last week. These are some COVID symptoms that may last. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.

1

Fatigue

Young woman falling asleep in bed with drink in hand
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Tiredness is common when recovering from illness, and some people who've had COVID have reported fatigue that can range from mild to crushing and can last for months, making daily activities and working difficult and rendering them effectively disabled. Several studies have found that fatigue is the most common long COVID symptom. People with long COVID may become exhausted or debilitated after doing just a little bit of physical exertion. 

2

Brain Fog

Man sitting on bed holding his head.
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Confusion or the inability to concentrate, known as "brain fog" has been commonly reported by people with COVID, and long-haulers say that state can linger. One estimate from the National Institutes of Health says up to 30 percent of people who've had COVID suffer some type of neurological or psychiatric symptoms. Researchers aren't sure exactly why. Right now, the two leading hypotheses are that COVID can cause inflammation in the brain, or the virus may deprive the brain of oxygen or blood, causing damage.

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3

Breathing Difficulties

Woman having breath difficulties.
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According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, "A bad case of COVID-19 can produce scarring and other permanent problems in the lungs, but even mild infections can cause persistent shortness of breath — getting winded easily after even light exertion."

4

Dysautonomia

Pain in the foot of the elderly
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This condition, in which the communication system between the brain and nerves go haywire, has been reported by some COVID patients during recovery. The symptoms can include problems with breathing, sleep and digestion; migraine headaches, numbness in the feet and hands, a feeling of sensory overload, and anxiety-inducing periods of shortness of breath and increased heart rate.

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5

Heart Problems

Woman getting her painful chest examined by a doctor.
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COVID can leave some people with heart problems, including inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis). "In fact, one study showed that 60% of people who recovered from COVID-19 had signs of ongoing heart inflammation, which could lead to the common symptoms of shortness of breath, palpitations and rapid heartbeat," says Johns Hopkins Medicine, noting that inflammation appeared even in people who had mild cases of COVID-19 and were otherwise healthy.

6

POTS

dizzy
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Feeling dizzy, fainting, or experiencing a racing heartbeat when standing up from a sitting position is the frustrating and scary condition known as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Many long COVID sufferers have reported that symptom, which is caused by a sharp rise in heart rate when you stand up. It's not clear why POTS is a long-haul COVID symptom, but the phenomenon is not new. "Patients may develop POTS after a viral illness, serious infections, medical illness, pregnancy and trauma such as head injury," says the Cleveland Clinic. 

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7

Chest Pain

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It's been widely reported that COVID can cause heart inflammation, but it's also related to another kind of chest pain, which can be long-lasting. Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects ribs to the breastbone. Sometimes swelling can accompany the pain, which is called Tietze syndrome.

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8

How to Stay Safe Out There

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Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of 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