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If you are experiencing lingering symptoms after COVID-19, you may be a COVID long-hauler.

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COVID-19 symptoms don’t always improve in just a few days or weeks. In some cases, people continue to feel unwell long after their coronavirus tests are negative. Called “long-haulers” by doctors, these people experience lingering symptoms that may be as bad or worse than their initial virus symptoms. Symptoms can even be severe enough that it becomes difficult for long-haulers to return to work or care for their families.

What symptoms do long-haulers experience?

Long-term COVID symptoms vary from person to person but may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Brain fog
  • Insomnia
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Breathing problems/shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Joint pain
  • Body aches
  • Numbness

COVID-19 can also affect the immune system or damage the heart, lungs, brain and other organs, causing permanent health issues that must be carefully managed by doctors.

Constant fatigue was cited as a problem for more than 97% of long-haulers who logged their symptoms in a COVID Systems Study app, while 91% struggled with intermittent headaches.

Why do some people have long-term symptoms from COVID?

It’s not clear why some people still feel sick months after they were first diagnosed with the coronavirus. About 10% of people who have COVID-19 become long-haulers, according to British researchers who published an article on post-acute COVID-19 in the BMJ.

Long-haul COVID doesn’t seem to be related to the severity of the initial illness. You’re just as likely to develop long-term symptoms whether you had mild or severe symptoms. The number of symptoms you experience when you’re first diagnosed may increase your chance of developing long-haul COVID. The researchers who analyzed the results of the COVID Systems Study app noticed that patients who had five or more coronavirus symptoms initially were more likely to experience long-term COVID issues.

An immune system overreaction is one theory that could explain long-haul COVID. It’s also possible that long-haul symptoms might occur if a small amount of the virus remains in the body despite negative tests or the virus triggers inflammation.

How are long-haul symptoms treated?

As reports of long-haul COVID symptoms increased throughout the country during recent months, doctors began to look for ways to help people suffering from the condition. Post-COVID recovery clinics have been opening in some areas of the country and they are dedicated to easing common long-term coronavirus symptoms. The clinics have a variety of specialists and therapists in one location, making it easier to treat patients who have a range of symptoms.

Although clinics aren’t available in every area of the U.S., post-COVID healthcare teams plan to share their treatment knowledge with doctors throughout the country. While there is currently no cure for long-haul COVID symptoms, treatments aimed at improving individual symptoms can help improve your health if you still experience symptoms long after your initial COVID diagnosis. Talk to your doctor about any lingering symptoms you may have.

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Date Last Reviewed: December 15, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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