Long COVID: Overview
Long COVID: Overview
Doctors and researchers around the world are still learning about COVID-19 and long COVID. Almost daily, there are new findings about prevention, COVID variants, symptoms, and treatment. Here’s a brief overview of what we know about long COVID.
What is Long COVID?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes long COVID as follows:
“Some patients who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have new, recurring, or ongoing symptoms and clinical findings four or more weeks after infection, sometimes after initial symptom recovery.”
Although they all refer to the same thing, long COVID has many names. They include chronic COVID, long-haul(er) COVID, long-term effects of COVID, post-acute COVID-19, post-COVID syndrome, as well as some other more complex terms used by researchers.
As you read the different names of long COVID, the terms within them are very telling:
Chronic = long-term
Post-acute = after short-term COVID infection
Syndrome = group of symptoms
Long COVID is long-term - with a group of symptoms - and follows short-term COVID.
Some Facts About Long COVID
Symptoms are real - they are not imagined, exaggerated, or caused by anxiety or stress.
Long COVID may affect those who were hospitalized with COVID, as well as those who were not.
Long COVID symptoms are common, although studies of the number of people with long COVID vary. One study found 1 out of 3 people had symptoms up to nine months after acute COVID infection. Other research found even higher numbers.
What are the Symptoms of Long COVID?
The coronavirus can invade many types of cells in the body and injure many different tissues and organs. As a result, you may have a wide range of long COVID symptoms.
The symptoms also vary from person-to-person (i.e. fatigue vs. loss of taste/smell, etc.). The length of time and the number of symptoms present (i.e. weeks to months and one to many) also differ.
There are a few symptoms that are most common. These may be fatigue, post-exertional malaise - PEM (extreme fatigue even after minor physical or mental tasks), and brain fog (trouble with focus and memory). The following graphic shows the organs affected and the wide range of symptoms.
What is the Treatment for Long COVID?
Currently, there is no cure for long COVID. Studies of treatment are ongoing.
Treatment that is available is supportive - i.e. it helps to lessen specific symptoms. It should be personalized to your symptoms. For example, you may benefit from breathing exercises for difficulty breathing, over-the-counter medicines for coughs or pain, or relaxation practices to help you cope.
To care for those with long COVID, the CDC and other organizations recommend a well-rounded strategy that addresses all of a person’s needs. Goodpath uses an integrative approach which includes activity guidance, mind-body techniques, nutrition, and appropriate products.
The goal of treatment is to improve daily function and overall quality of life as much as possible.
This means that you still could experience some symptoms. Through Goodpath’s approach, the goal is to feel better and be able to do more over time. This can be achieved through managing your symptoms.
Self-Management Tools for Long COVID
Self-management is an important first step to improve your symptoms:
1. Identify triggers
You might notice worsening symptoms (also known as flare-ups) some days and not others. To prevent symptom flare-ups from occurring, you should do your best to understand what triggers your symptoms to worsen. For example, a common trigger is over-exertion (i.e. pushing yourself too hard). This can be both in physical and mental tasks. Pacing yourself, using Goodpath resources and coaching, is an essential skill for reducing flare-ups.
2. Track your symptoms
It could be difficult to identify triggers initially. Using a symptom diary can help you recognize your specific triggers as well as monitor your symptom severity. When you learn about your triggers and worsening symptoms, you are able to avoid certain triggers. And, if some triggers cannot be avoided, you can plan accordingly to reduce their effects. You can use a journal, notepad, or your phone to record the following:
The activity or situation– the “trigger” (physical, mental, environmental, etc.)
Be descriptive. If it is an activity, for example– cleaning the house, you can list the level of activity. Was it minimal, moderate, or maximal effort?
What symptoms or worsening of symptoms you experienced
The rate of intensity or severity of the symptom
How long after the trigger you experienced the symptoms (An hour? A day? Three days?)
3. Reflect on your triggers and symptoms and make any necessary changes to your daily life
As you continue to learn more about your symptoms and triggers, start to make changes to avoid or minimize triggers. You can talk to your coach about how to make these changes. They can help you create a plan that will fit into your life.
4. Be patient and prioritize rest and recovery
Managing your triggers and symptoms can take time. When you do experience worsening symptoms, give yourself adequate time to rest and recover. If you need additional support on ways to incorporate rest into your day, reach out to your coach for help.