For some people, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone and this is referred to as "Long Covid". In this article I will be looking at what Long Covid is, what symptoms are associated with Long Covid, the research that has been conducted on Long Covid and what tests can be conducted to diagnose someone with Long Covid.
After having suffered from Covid-19 many people feel better in a few days or weeks and most will make a full recovery within 12 weeks however for some people symptoms can last longer. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Long Covid as "usually 3 months from the onset of Covid-19 with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis." As Covid-19 is still relatively new there is not a great deal of research on Long Covid however it is believed that having long-term symptoms is not linked to how ill you are when you first get Covid-19 as there are many people who had mild symptoms at first and have had long-term problems.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that between 3 and 12 percent of people who catch Covid will still have symptoms 12 weeks after their initial infection. However these statistics are constantly changing with new variants for example it is believed that people who have had Omicron variant are less likely to have Long Covid than people who have had the delta variant as 4.5 per cent of the people who had Omicron went on to develop Long Covid symptoms, compared to 10.8 per cent of the people with Delta.
There are a whole range of symptoms of Long Covid and these include extreme tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath, chest pain, problems with memory and concentration ("brain fog"), difficulty sleeping (insomnia, dizziness, depression and anxiety, stomach aches and high temperature. (“Long-term effects of coronavirus (Long COVID)”).
Research published by Imperial College London, based on half a million people in England, found two main categories of ongoing symptoms: a smaller group of people with respiratory symptoms, such as a cough or breathlessness and a larger group with a cluster of more general symptoms, particularly tiredness and fatigue. Other researchers have identified their own two groups that they believe summarise the symptoms best. The first group is identical to the Imperial College London research and identifies the first group as mainly respiratory, however the second group of symptoms are believed to affect certain parts of the body such as the heart, brain and gut. (“Long Covid: the symptoms and tips for recovery”)
Many people are interested in knowing the best way to prevent Long Covid and it is believed that the best way to do this is by getting all the vaccines recommended. The vaccine not only reduces the risk of catching Covid-19, but there is also evidence that for those who do catch it, being vaccinated makes it less likely they will develop Long Covid. However apart from this there is not much research and there is currently no treatment for Long Covid.
There isn't one single test to diagnose Long Covid as it is not fully understood yet. However tests could include: blood tests, heart rate and blood pressure checks, an ECG or a chest X-ray.
“Long Covid: the symptoms and tips for recovery.” British Heart Foundation, 4 July 2022, https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/coronavirus-and-your-health/long-covid. Accessed 6 July 2022.
“Long-term effects of coronavirus (long COVID).” NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/long-term-effects-of-coronavirus-long-covid/. Accessed 6 July 2022.