Is It Possible to Have Lingering Symptoms of COVID-19?

Reviewed on 3/31/2022
Chest X-ray of lung inflammation caused by COVID-19
Long COVID symptoms occur in people who do not recover completely and have ongoing symptoms, people whose symptoms are related to chronic hospitalization, and people who have symptoms that appear after recovery.

COVID-19 is a novel (new) coronavirus, not previously identified in humans, responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness that became a global pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 is different from other coronaviruses that cause mild illness, such as the common cold.

Although most people recover from COVID-19 within a few weeks, it is possible to have lingering symptoms of COVID-19. Long COVID, also called long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, long-term effects of COVID, chronic COVID, or Post Acute Coronavirus Disease Syndrome (PACS), is responsible for new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people may experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

There are three types of long COVID: 

  • People who do not recover completely and have ongoing symptoms 
  • People whose symptoms are related to chronic hospitalization
  • People who have symptoms that appear after recovery

Symptoms of long COVID are similar to many symptoms of COVID-19 and may include:

In people who had severe illness with COVID-19, lingering symptoms may include: 

  • Multiorgan effects 
    • Can affect all organ systems, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain 
  • Autoimmune conditions
    • The immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body, causing inflammation (swelling) or tissue damage in the affected parts of the body
  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS)
    • Rare, tends to affect children more than adults
    • Different body parts can become inflamed. 

Long-term symptoms that can occur in patients who are hospitalized or who had severe illness from COVID-19 may include: 

  • Severe weakness and exhaustion during the recovery period
  • Post-intensive care syndrome (PICS)
    • Health effects that start when a person is in an intensive care unit (ICU) and can continue after a person returns home
    • Severe weakness, problems with thinking and judgment, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

What Causes Long COVID?

Long COVID is caused by previous infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. 

COVID-19 is transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets propelled into the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Less commonly, COVID-19 may be transmitted when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Long COVID may be due to:

  • Cell damage from the virus
  • Chronic hospitalization due to the illness

How Is Long COVID Diagnosed?

COVID-19 is diagnosed with a medical history (including any recent known exposure to COVID-19) and physical exam, looking for symptoms of COVID-19. 

If COVID-19 is suspected tests used to diagnose the virus include: 

  • PCR tests (genetic or molecular test) 
  • Antigen test

An antibody test may be used to diagnose a past infection. 

There are no specific criteria to diagnose long COVID, but generally, long COVID is diagnosed based on signs and symptoms that:

  • Develop during or following an infection consistent with COVID-19
  • Continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis

What Is the Treatment for Long COVID?

There is no specific treatment for long COVID. Home treatment is aimed at relief of symptoms.

Home treatment for lingering fatigue and breathlessness due to long COVID may include: 

  • Pace yourself 
  • Break down tasks into smaller chunks
  • Take frequent short rests, resting before you become exhausted.
  • Try to gradually increase the amount of exercise you do
    • Go for short walks or perform simple strength exercises 
    • Lean on a cane or walker if needed when you feel breathless

Home treatment for lingering mood problems such as depression or anxiety due to long COVID may include: 

  • Be kind to yourself during your recovery
  • Connect with others and keep in touch with family and friends
  • Maintain a daily routine for a sense of stability
  • Stay active to help release endorphins and improve mood

Home treatment for lingering thinking or memory problems due to long COVID may include: 

  • Make notes to help you remember things 
  • Reduce distractions when possible
  • Have a plan before approaching situations and break it down into steps

Home treatment for lingering joint or muscle pain due to long COVID may include: 

  • Flexibility exercises 
    • Stretching
    • Yoga
    • Tai chi
  • Strength exercises
  • Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise regime 
Reviewed on 3/31/2022
Image Source: iStock Images