Coronavirus pandemic officials, companies, and communities worldwide are still facing the aftermath of the virus. While few could foresee that it would result in such turmoil, the pandemic’s impact is unavoidable. With countries facing economic strain and lifestyles’ turned on their heads, COVID-19 has undoubtedly resulted in total societal upheaval worldwide. But what about the potential long-term effects of coronavirus?
While official health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are still working towards uncovering both the long and short-term effects, there is still much we don’t know.
So, what long-term effects does the disease have on our health?
Long-Term Effects of Coronavirus
When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, very little was known other than this being a respiratory virus that causes breathlessness, fatigue, muscle aches, and other flu-like symptoms.
As the pandemic unfolded, other symptoms became more prevalent – like the partial or total loss of taste and smell. Eventually, as time went by, it was safe to assume that the cases weren’t all alike, with patients experiencing a range of symptoms at varying degrees of severity – some asymptomatic, some mild, and some cases requiring hospitalization for supplementary oxygen and the use of a ventilator. Even now, some aspects of the novel coronavirus remain shrouded in mystery.
While most people who contract the virus experience a complete recovery within a few weeks, some patients continue to experience symptoms for weeks and even months afterwards. Even those with mild cases can suffer a rebound effect, with symptoms re-appearing more aggressively.
These patients are known as “long-haulers” and are said to have “post-COVID-19 syndrome”, or “long COVID-19.” And while the elderly and people with underlying conditions are the most likely to face lingering COVID-19 symptoms, even young and otherwise healthy people could feel unwell for weeks to months after infection.
According to the CDC, the most common long-term symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
With other reported symptoms including:
- Difficulty thinking and concentrating (“brain fog”)
- Muscle aches
- Intermittent fevers
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (heart palpitations)
More long-term, severe complications appear to be less common but have been reported. According to a WHO report titled: What we know about Long-term effects of COVID-19, these also include:
Long-Term Organ Damage
Although COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, it can damage other organs, increasing the chances of long-term health problems. Organs that may be affected by COVID-19 include:
- Heart – tests conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) reveal lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in mild COVID-19 cases. This directly increases the risk of heart failure or other heart complications in the future.
- Lungs – the kind of pneumonia often affiliated with the virus may cause permanent damage to the tiny air sacs in the lungs known as alveoli, resulting in long-term breathing problems.
- Brain – a paper published in the Harvard Medical School titled: The hidden long-term cognitive effects of COVID-19, reports that COVID-19 can cause strokes, seizures and Guillain-Barre syndrome (a condition that causes temporary paralysis) – even in young people. It may also increase the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
People suffering from severe COVID-19 symptoms are often treated in a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). This includes mechanical assistance, like ventilators, to help the patient to breathe. Undergoing and surviving this can make someone more susceptible to post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and anxiety.
In addition, since predicting the long-term outcomes of the virus is tricky – scientists are forced to examine the effects of related viruses like SARS. And many patients who recovered from SARS developed chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic – this is a complex disorder distinguished by extreme fatigue, worsened by physical or mental activity but not improved with rest. This may also be a possibility for those who have contracted COVID-19.
What Does This Mean for Patients?
As previously mentioned, there is still so much that we don’t know about how COVID affects people over time. The CDC has said it will continue to help analyze and give access to new data as it is uncovered.
Ultimately, more time and research are necessary to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19, why symptoms persist or recur and how these may affect patients over the long and short term.
Hospitals are creating post-COVID clinics to monitor these effects and get a better handle on long-hauler patients. United States clinics are already set up at the University of Chicago, Mt. Sinai in New York City, Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, and St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, amongst others.
It’s important to remember that while most people who contract COVID-19 make a quick recovery, the potential long-term effects make reducing the spread that much more critical.