For most people who get infected with the Coronavirus, their symptoms last for a few days and manifest in the form of cold, cough, fever, headache, shortness of breath and they eventually make a complete recovery. Many people do not develop any symptoms at all and a few go on to develop serious complications. For some who recover from COVID-19, it has been found that the after-effects of the disease linger on in the form of fatigue, heart issues, joint pains, neurological symptoms and other problems. Although primarily a respiratory disease, research has shown that the Coronavirus can also damage other organs which in turn causes such long term problems. While there is still a lot to be learned about the post effects of COVID-19, let us take a look at some of the common ones that are being reported.
Do we know why a subset of COVID-19 patients experience long-term complications?
While any person can contract the Coronavirus, it is still being researched as to what factors cause some to experience the long-term consequences of it even after recovering from the infection. Early studies by various organizations show that people more prone to experience the after-effects:
- Are 65 years or older
- Have a pre-existing chronic lung condition
- Have a cardiac condition
- Have diabetes, hypertension or obesity
- Have kidney or liver disease
- Have neurological disorders
To understand how the long-term effects of Coronavirus manifest themselves, researchers are first understanding which organs of the body were affected at the time of the infection, and this could hold the key to understanding the patterns of recurring symptoms and long-term health problems. In a study in Italy that tracked 179 patients for post-acute COVID-19 care assessment, it was found that 87.4% reported persistence of at least one symptom. In this population, the most common post-recovery symptoms observed were fatigue (53.1%), shortness of breath (43.4%), joint pain (27.3%) and chest pain (21.7%).
What are some of the long-term health complications observed in COVID-19 patients?
Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic has been around for just a few months, precious little is still known about the virus and the complications it causes. Although COVID-19 is considered a disease that primarily damages the lungs, it can impact other organs in the body as well. Doctors and healthcare experts have now started to explore the COVID-19’s possible long-term impact on patients.
Heart damage: Scans and imaging tests taken for COVID-19 patients long after they have recovered have detected damage to the heart muscles. Cardiologists have also observed an increase in inflammation of the heart. In a study of 416 patients (median age 64) with COVID 19 in Wuhan, China, it was found that cardiac injury occurred in 19.7% of patients during hospitalization. An inflamed heart can impair its ability to perform regular functions like pumping blood around the body, thereby increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Doctors have also found evidence of other heart conditions such as myocarditis, causing scarring and heart failure in COVID-19 patients.
Brain Fog and other neurological conditions: Various studies have shown that COVID-19 affects the brain cells and can cause severe neurological problems, ranging from memory issues and confusion, to hallucinations and seizures. Some people also complained of severe headaches, dizziness, loss of taste and smell, and impaired consciousness. Scientists have cited possible oxygen starvation, or the aftermath of a cytokine storm when the body’s immune system fights with the virus, as the reason for such neurological complications. There is no data yet to confirm the exact reason behind these complications but research points to these symptoms developing mainly in those people who had acute cases of COVID 19 infection. Doctors have also reported that some patients hospitalized for Covid-19 are experiencing high rates of blood clots, which can cause strokes.
Kidney Damage: Early studies have indicated that 30 percent of Coronavirus hospitalized patients develop moderate to severe kidney damage. Some of them already had a pre-existing comorbid condition such as diabetes and hypertension, which made them susceptible to kidney conditions. However, as per nephrologists, patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms may suffer from acute kidney damage despite having no preexisting condition. Additionally, blood clots in the kidneys can cause renal failure, which can cause life-long complications.
Fatigue and muscle weakness: Doctors have also reported that patients hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment are experiencing extreme fatigue, joint pain, and muscle weakness even several days after discharge. For instance, physicians are seeing people who are not even able to walk up a series of stairs due to muscle and joint pain. However, as per reports, most individuals recover with regular exercise and physiotherapy.
Lung Problems: The Coronavirus attack typically starts with the respiratory system, causing some patients to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome. Such patients are likely to have long-term effects of the virus such as persistent shortness of breath, even after recovery. For people developing pneumonia from the COVID-19 infection, long-standing damage to the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs is observed, which can lead to long-term breathing problems.
As healthcare organizations and experts need more time and research to understand the long-term effects of Coronavirus complications, it is important to be able to identify such signs and symptoms that you might experience in your path to complete recovery. Although most people who have had COVID-19 have recovered quickly, following extra precautions and having 24X7 access to doctors and specialists can help recovering Coronavirus patients get back to being healthy again.