How to Deal with Long COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly everyone in some way. More than 4 million people lost their lives throughout the world, with more than 600,000 in the U.S. Among the millions more who got sick and survived, many still have symptoms months later.
This condition is called long COVID, or post-acute COVID. There’s much experts don’t yet understand, including exactly how common it is. Some studies suggest as many as two-thirds of people who test positive for COVID-19 have symptoms at the 6-month mark.
As medical professionals unravel the medical mystery of long COVID, they’re working to help people manage it. Here’s what we know and what you can do about it.
A wide range of health issues
Anyone infected with COVID-19 can develop long COVID, including otherwise healthy people who were never hospitalized due to the virus. The term typically refers to symptoms that last, or appear, 4 weeks or longer after infection.
The most common include:
Poor endurance, or feeling worse after exertion
Trouble thinking or concentrating, often called “brain fog”
Dizziness when you stand up
Changes in smell, taste, mood, or menstrual cycles
Some of these are direct consequences of the infection. Others are side effects of hospitalization. You may also develop autoimmune reactions after having the virus. When that happens, your body attacks healthy cells, damaging your organs and systems.
Coping with the consequences
Experts around the country and the world are researching long COVID. In Dec. 2020, Congress approved more than $1 billion in funding over 4 years.
Meanwhile, you can take steps now to improve your symptoms—and your life. To start:
Track your health. There’s no “typical” case of long COVID. Keep tabs on any problems you have and what makes them better or worse.
Talk with your provider. Take your notes to your healthcare team. They’ll suggest tests, treatments, and everyday changes to make you feel better—for instance, breathing exercises or physical therapy. You may be referred to specialists or a post-COVID clinic.
Join a support group. People gather in person and virtually to share information and resources. Search for these groups online or ask your healthcare provider for a connection.
Of course, the best way to prevent long COVID is to avoid getting COVID-19 in the first place. To do this, get vaccinated as soon as you can.
The shots are recommended even if you’ve already had COVID-19. In fact, some people with long COVID report feeling better after they’re immunized.