What is Long COVID?
Author: Mark Wade, MD, Cardiologist
According to a recent study by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, long COVID has had a dramatic impact on working-age people, and we are just beginning to understand the underlying symptom and medical treatment options.
Long COVID is defined as a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems typically 4+ weeks after first being infected. Conditions can present as different types and combinations of health problems for different lengths of time. Typically, symptoms can include:
- New difficulties in breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest or stomach pain
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Mood changes
- Change in smell or taste
- Changes in menstrual period cycles
According to a Mayo Clinic study, 80% of the patients that had long COVID symptoms reported fatigue, 60% had persistent respiratory issues, 45% reported cognitive impairment, and 26% said they were suffering mental health issues because of the disease. Some people reported symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities such as sudden headaches, fast-beating or pounding heart (aka heart palpitations), joint or muscle pain, pins-and-needles feeling, and sleep problems. Many have also reported difficulty thinking or concentrating for long periods of time (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”), and sudden dizziness when standing (lightheadedness).
Studies suggest that 30-50% of COVID survivors have 1 or more long COVID symptoms at 3 to 6 months, and a recent survey of employers found that 46% had an employee with long COVID. An online COVID support group study found 45% of respondents required a reduced work schedule, and 22% were unable to work. In fact, one report estimates that long COVID could account for 1.1 million unfilled jobs and 2.1 million reduced hour workers, or 15% of the ‘great resignation’ in the US.
If you had COVID and think you may be experiencing long COVID symptoms, we may be able to help. We can offer a general evaluation of your overall health including CBC and CMP lab testing, testing for vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiencies, ordering thyroid panels, and possibly iron studies. We can conduct echocardiograms, perform chest x-Rays and pulmonary function tests, and refer patients out for autonomic reflex testing (a non-invasive test that measures how the nervous system works to control blood pressure, heart rate and sweating). Our clinicians can check for unexpected complications with existing medications, ensure hydration and nutrition are being properly monitored, and educate patients on safe paced activity. We can refer our patients to mental health professionals if mental health has become an issue because of COVID infection.