What is “Long Haul” COVID?

A man holds his head in his hands, he is fatigued from the lasting effects of long-haul COVID.

Long-haul COVID describes long-term lasting symptoms of COVID-19. It is experienced by some people after their initial recovery. It typically describes symptoms that persist longer than four weeks after initially contracting COVID-19. Though this illness has no formal medical definition yet, it goes by other names as well. It is also called COVID, post-acute COVID, or chronic COVID. Overall, the umbrella term for long term symptoms of COVID is “post-COVID conditions.”

What are the long-term health effects of COVID-19?

Unfortunately, COVID-19 can cause many health complications that present themselves during long-haul COVID. These can impact the health of many different organs. As a respiratory disease, COVID-19 primarily affects lung health. Long term damage and scar tissue within the lungs can also occur because of pneumonia related to COVID-19. This can cause more long-term respiratory issues that appear as symptoms of long-haul COVID. In addition to lung damage, COVID-19 can also affect the heart. Damage to the heart muscle has been observed in many long-haul COVID patients, which could lead to further complications in the future. Brain health can also be affected by COVID-19, which has caused strokes and seizures in certain patients. In addition to physical symptoms, there can also be lasting psychological effects of COVID-19. Trauma endured at the hospital, or living with symptoms long-term can cause depression and anxiety in people recovering from COVID-19.

What are the symptoms of long-haul COVID?

The symptoms of long-haul COVID can either be new, or ongoing symptoms from the previous COVID-19 infection. The CDC has collected a list of symptoms that can occur in people experiencing long-haul COVID. People with the condition can experience any combination of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Tiredness, fatigue
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Coughing
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Pins-and-needles sensations in the body
  • Diarrhea
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Fever
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Rashes
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in smell or taste
  • Changes in period cycles

Because of the severity of certain symptoms, or their long duration, anxiety and depression can also be symptoms of long-haul COVID. 

How long do symptoms of long-haul COVID last?

The length of long-haul COVID symptoms changes from person to person. Symptoms can persist for weeks following a recovery from COVID-19, or even months. For many people, the symptoms of long-haul COVID become milder over time. Since this ailment is relatively new, there is no definitive timeline for the recovery from long-haul COVID. Much like COVID-19 itself, the length and implications of long-haul COVID are still being studied. In early 2021, one study found that about 75% of recovered COVID-19 patients who had been hospitalized sustained symptoms for over six months. 

Who gets long haul COVID, and who doesn’t?

People who exhibit more severe symptoms with the first onset of COVID-19 appear to be more at risk of developing long-haul COVID. This is not always the case though. Even younger patients, or those who didn’t experience intense COVID-19 symptoms can still develop long-haul COVID.  Interestingly, preliminary research shows that women are more likely to develop long-haul COVID, representing about 70% of cases. In June of 2021, one study of 2 million COVID-19 recovered patients found that 23% developed long-haul COVID. This included many asymptomatic patients, or by those who experienced no symptoms while they were infected with COVID-19.

Why is it hard to treat long-haul COVID?

There are many reasons why it’s difficult to treat long-haul COVID. Firstly, much like COVID-19, it’s a relatively new ailment that we haven’t yet had the chance to study. As the pandemic continues, most health care workers and researchers are primarily concerned with other time-sensitive issues. These include treating active cases of COVID-19, studying vaccination effects, and working to stop the spread of the virus. Along with this, long-haul COVID isn’t technically classified yet – it has no clinical name. It does not have a reimbursement code for insurance companies, further complicating access to treatment.

How do I avoid getting long-haul COVID?

The best way to protect yourself from long-haul COVID is to get fully vaccinated against the COVID-19. When you are fully vaccinated, you are at a much lower risk of contracting the disease in the first place. Should you contract COVID-19 after being vaccinated (which would be called a “breakthrough” case), symptoms are generally milder. There has been some public safety concern surrounding COVID-19 vaccines due to the speed at which they became available. In reality, the reason for the quick production and approval was because unprecedented resources were available for their development. This was due to the concentrated, worldwide concern about this disease. COVID-19 vaccines still go through rigorous scientific testing and clinical trials before approval. Globally, we are seeing the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in stopping the spread of the virus.

What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?

To be fully vaccinated, you first need all doses of a vaccine. After this, your immune system needs time to develop antibodies against the virus. The CDC considers people fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

If you have a compromised immune system, you also may not be as shielded as others. You may require an additional dose of vaccine for greater protection.

The bottom line.

Despite the immense amount of medical and scientific research on COVID-19, many long term effects are still unknown. This includes many aspects of long-haul COVID, such as it’s long term lasting effects into the future. What can we do to protect ourselves from the virus? In addition to vaccinations, the spread of COVID-19 and any variant slows through frequent medical testing and monitoring. This includes antibody, PCR, and surveillance testing. Your Health Lab offers each of these tests, helping individuals and institutions monitor and slow the spread of the virus. Check out our offerings and learn all about our COVID-19 testing here.

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