Long COVID: The Long-Lasting Impact Of The Virus

Covid-19 face masks.
Adam Goriparthi

Typically, COVID-19 is a virus that resolves itself but for some it has long-lasting consequences. It becomes ‘Long COVID’. While there has been a focus on finding treatments for acute cases, it is becoming increasingly clear that some people have lingering symptoms that get progressively worse. What is ‘Long COVID’? Why is it an issue?  

Each individual may display a stark contrast in symptoms

Features of ‘Long COVID’.

‘Long COVID’ is particularly worrying because even the mildest infections can develop into severe health problems. These can vary and each individual may display a stark contrast in symptoms. There is usually severe fatigue, but other common features include: 

  • Breathlessness
  • Muscle aches
  • Organ failure
  • Mental health issues including depression and anxiety  

study in Rome followed COVID patients after they were discharged from hospital; it showed that, two months later, 87% of patients still presented at least one symptom – normally fatigue. However, this study only included patients who needed the hospital – so just like ‘short COVID’, not all ‘Long COVID’ cases are recorded and it may not be as severe. 

What are the Consequences? 

It can result in long-term heart damage

There has been research to suggest that while the virus may have been cleared from most of the body, it can remain in some small pockets in tissues. It is believed that the premature ageing of blood vessels combined with abnormal blood clotting is responsible. This may explain the cardiovascular impact of ‘Long COVID’.  

Notably, it can result in long-term heart damage. The virus can cause damage through destroying heart cells or by triggering inflammation of heart muscle. This can lead to conditions such as abnormal heart rhythms, chest pain and shock. In extreme circumstances, this leads to total heart failure. These trends aren’t surprising – past studies found that both the SARS and MERS coronaviruses led to chronic heart issues.   

‘Long COVID’ isn’t a novel phenomenon – fatigue after a virus is frequently observed and almost all of us have had an infection that has taken a while to fully recover from. However, with COVID, there seem to be a broader range of symptoms. It seems likely that the various ways the virus attacks and changes our body ensures more severe infection and persistent symptoms than other viruses. 

 Adam Goriparthi

Featured image courtesy of Prachatai on Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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