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'Long Covid' FAQs

People ill with Covid-19 can experience many varied and debilitating symptoms long after the initial virus has passed.
What is ‘Long Covid’?

Long Covid is yet another way in which the Covid-19 virus is different from other viruses like the flu.

Long Covid describes a set of symptoms that continue long after the initial Covid-19 infection has gone. Even people who had relatively moderate Covid-19 at the time can experience long covid symptoms. Even young, fit people who had mild Covid.

Over a million people have Long Covid in the UK. In nearly half of them symptoms have lasted over a year.

What are the symptoms?

Doctors are in the early stages of understanding this condition and there are a variety of different symptoms affecting may parts of the body. These include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Heart symptoms like chest tightness, chest pain or palpitations
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Cognitive impairment (or 'brain fog', loss of concentration or memory issues)
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Pins and needles and numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sickness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Reduced appetite (in older people)
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and earache
  • Loss of taste and/or smell
  • Skin rashes

According to the Royal College of Nursing, patients are also reporting mental health issues. But the four most common physical symptoms are:

  • fatigue – reported by 55%
  • shortness of breath – 39%
  • loss of smell – 33%
  • difficulty concentrating (brain fog) – 30%. 

This is a long list of varied symptoms. Many of them could be caused by other conditions, of course, and doctors will try to rule these out.

More recently, you can add erection problems to this list. Covid-19 can affect your penis long-term even if you don't have it seriously.

What can happen?

You don't have to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 to have Long Covid. But one British Medical Journal paper looked at what happened to those who were admitted (about 450,000 of them) after they were discharged. All told, one third of discharged patients were readmitted to hospital and one in 10 died. Discharged patients had higher risks of:

  • new respiratory disease (6 times higher),
  • major cardiovascular disease (3 times),
  • chronic liver disease (2.8 times),
  • chronic kidney disease (1.9 times), and
  • diabetes (1.5 times)

The risks were higher in those younger than 70 and in non-white individuals.

Another UK study, also reported in the BMJ, showed that more than half of patients with Covid-19 had Long Covid symptoms three months after discharge from hospital, with worse outcomes among those younger than 50, women, and those with higher pre-Covid fitness levels.

In other words, Long Covid appears to affect the younger and the fitter. A very good reason for young, fit people to avoid catching Covid-19. An earlier British Medical Journal article described multiple organ damage in young, fit patients.

Many people suffering from Long Covid are still unable to work at full capacity six months later according to a large-scale survey of patients.

The RCN say there’s growing evidence that patients are experiencing problems with energy production. In this way, Long Covid is similar to the experiences of people who have ME or chronic fatigue syndrome.

What should I do about Long Covid?

NICE have issued guidelines advising doctors to keep an eye out for Long Covid. If you’ve had the virus, you should keep an eye out too, especially new, ongoing or worsening symptoms more than 4 weeks after the start of Covid-19. Contact your GP.

Anyone hospitalised with Covid-19 should get a follow-up call or appointment six weeks later in part to monitor for Long Covid.  

The NHS has set up a useful website called Your Covid Recovery.

It has been suggested that the NHS may even need to reconfigure it services to manage Long Covid.

Date published 21/12/20
Date of last review 24/01/22
Date of next review 22/04/22

References

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