Updated 13 August 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Long Covid?Long Covid (also known as Chronic COVID-19 or post COVID syndrome) describes someone with ongoing symptoms after being sick with Covid-19. According to the World Health Organization, Long Covid refers to individuals with symptoms (e.g. fatigue, shortness of breath, etc.) that are related to a probable or diagnosed Covid-19 illness within the last three months . Symptoms can either appear within these three months or persist from the initial date of sickness. Additionally, there should be no other related diagnosis within the last two months that could explain the symptoms. Always talk to your GP if you are experiencing symptoms similar to Long Covid. They will be able to speak with you about the next steps and what treatment may be necessary.
Who Has a High Risk of Long Covid?According to the Royal Australian College of GPs , approximately 5% of those who catch Covid-19 also get ‘Long Covid.’ However, these symptoms are more likely to occur in older, more unwell and those who experienced more severe Covid-19 symptoms initially. An Australian study published in The Lancet, showed that individuals who are female, over 50 years and had more chronic diseases (e.g. high blood pressure, kidney disease, etc.) had a higher risk of developing Long Covid .
Long Covid SymptomsSymptoms of Long Covid will vary from person to person. As mentioned earlier, symptoms can either be new or persist since the first infection. Examples of common symptoms include :
- Fatigue or easily being tired
- Being short of breath
- Joint or muscle pain
- Being anxious and low mood
- An altered sensation of taste and/or smell
- Mild chest pain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Severe or progressively worsening breathlessness/difficulty breathing
- Severe chest pain and/or uncontrolled increase in heart rate
- New or worsening confusion
- Difficulty keeping awake and drowsiness
What Causes Long Covid?At the moment, more research is being conducted about what may be causing Long Covid symptoms. However, several hypotheses are being researched by scientists. Examples of potential Long Covid causes include : Small blood clots restrict blood flow to vital parts of the body, including the brain and organs. Persistent virus that continues to live inside the body, such as the muscle, gut and brain. An immune system that continues to work over time, even after the initial recovery. As noted earlier, there are also risk factors that may increase the chance of an individual developing this health condition, including:
- Those with more chronic diseases (e.g. high blood pressure, COPD, etc.)
- Over the age of 50
- Those who had more severe symptoms when first catching Covid
Long Covid Test and DiagnosisIf you suspect you may have Long Covid, please talk to your GP. A history of your condition and symptoms will be able to guide your GP about a diagnosis and what treatments may be appropriate. Currently, there is no single test that will be able to diagnose Long Covid. Depending on your circumstances, a series of examinations may be required, including :
- Listening to your lungs and breathing patterns
- A lung function test
- Chest x-ray, CT scan and/or MRI imaging (e.g. lungs, heart, brain etc.) to view what could be occurring inside the lungs
- Physical tests
- Psychological and mental health checks
- General blood tests
Long Covid TreatmentMost people who have Long Covid, experience one or several general symptoms (e.g. fatigue, breathlessness, etc.). As a result, no single treatment or medication can be prescribed for all symptoms. Your GP may provide advice and treatment to help control these symptoms.
Lifestyle AdviceOne of the most practical ways of managing Long Covid symptoms is by changing your lifestyle choices and habits . Referrals to other healthcare professionals, such as exercise physiologists and dietitians, may assist with these lifestyle habits. Your GP may suggest the following:
- Improving your sleep patterns
- Optimising your nutrition and diet
- Relaxation strategies
- Exercise and physical activity based on your symptoms
- Breathing exercises
- Stop smoking
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Strategies to conserve energy (e.g. pace yourself, plan ahead, prioritise essential activities, etc.)
MedicationYour GP may also prescribe medications depending on your symptoms as needed. Examples of these medications include painkillers and antibiotics.
Mental Health SupportAnxiety and depression are common symptoms associated with Long Covid. Your GP may be able to provide mental health support and/or refer you to other services (e.g. online support, face-to-face counselling, etc.). Self-care and strategies to help you look after yourself are also important, including:
- Being healthy (e.g. drinking water, nutrition, etc.)
- Reaching out to friends and family
- Schedule activities that you find enjoyable and relaxing
Referrals to Other Health ProfessionalsDepending on your symptoms, your GP may refer you to other health professionals to find different management strategies and treatments. Examples include:
- Occupational therapists
- Exercise physiologists
- Speech pathologists
- Medical specialists
How to Avoid Long Covid?The best way to avoid Long Covid is to prevent yourself from catching Covid-19 initially. Prevention is always better than cure. Being vaccinated, hand hygiene and wearing a mask in closed public spaces can help avoid catching Covid-19.
RecoverySymptoms of Long Covid last at least three months after the initial Covid-19 infection. However, the time taken to recover will vary from person to person. Always talk to your GP about your condition and symptoms to assist with your recovery.
ComplicationsLong Covid affects everyone differently depending on its severity and symptoms. Complications of Long Covid can include:
- Difficulty returning to your usual routine (e.g. work, exercise, etc.)
- Difficulty concentrating and focussing on tasks
- Low energy and mood
- Loss of taste and smell
- Kidney damage
- Long-term heart problems
- Long-term breathing issues
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- Liu, B., Jayasundara, D., Pye, V., Dobbins, T., Dore, G. J., Matthews, G., ... & Spokes, P. (2021). Whole of population-based cohort study of recovery time from COVID-19 in New South Wales Australia. The Lancet Regional Health-Western Pacific, 12, 100193.
- Yelin, D., Moschopoulos, C. D., Margalit, I., Gkrania-Klotsas, E., Landi, F., Stahl, J. P., & Yahav, D. (2022). ESCMID rapid guidelines for assessment and management of long COVID. Clinical Microbiology and Infection.