Long COVID

Long COVID: Everything You Need to Know

Long COVID is the long term effects of the COVID-19 virus on the human body. Learn more about long COVID, its signs, causes, treatment and commonly asked questions regarding the condition.

by Calvyn Ee

What is Long COVID?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), commonly referred to as COVID-19 or simply as COVID, has drastically changed our lives since it was first declared a pandemic in early 2020. While many people who catch COVID do not get very ill and recover rather quickly, there are cases where some people continue to exhibit symptoms even after they have recovered. This is referred to as ‘long COVID’, or post-COVID condition/symptoms.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Long COVID is formally defined as “occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, 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”. Other definitions consider the effects beginning four or more weeks after first contracting COVID, and persisting for even longer.

The complications of long COVID vary from person to person, affecting a person’s general well being, from their mobility to their organ functions.

Long COVID can affect anyone who had COVID-19, even if they were not hospitalised, as well as young children. A study by the Health Ministry in June 2021 found that out of 1,004 category 4 and 5 COVID-19 patients, 66 per cent of that number had long COVID.

Symptoms of Long COVID

Long COVID in Malaysia

Source: Ministry of Health Malaysia

Symptoms vary from case to case, with some going through it for weeks before recovering, while others experience a roller coaster ride of improving and subsequent declining health. As studies on long COVID continue, it is believed that other symptoms will also be revealed in time.

Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Worsened symptoms after physical or mental activities
  • Difficulty thinking, remembering, or concentrating (or “brain fog”)
  • Coughing
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Pins-and-needles feeling
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Fever
  • Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness)
  • Skin rashes
  • Mood changes
  • Changes to the sense of smell or taste
  • Changes in menstrual period cycles

Those who recovered from severe COVID-19 symptoms may be at risk of other effects. These effects may include inflammation of the heart muscles or lung abnormalities, among other things.

Causes of Long COVID

What exactly causes long COVID is still being determined. Some studies suggest that it may be due to lingering COVID inside the body, which causes symptoms to appear or persist even after recovery. Fragments of COVID-infected protein molecules, for example, may persist for months despite not being able to directly infect cells.

It is suggested that this is expected to happen, as even other chronic diseases (such as ebola) can lead to people developing chronic symptoms even after recovery.

The possibility of autoimmune conditions occurring may also be motivated by long COVID. COVID can turn your immune system against your body, attacking both healthy and infected cells/tissues, causing inflammation and even tissue damage. This can happen in those with very strong immune responses.

How it affects people also widely differs. According to doctors from the American Medical Association, COVID can either:

  1. Directly affect your body and lead to ongoing symptoms;
  2. Present symptoms that lead to chronic hospitalization; and/or
  3. Present symptoms after recovery (common for long COVID)

Other aftereffects of COVID can lead to cellular or blood vessel damage that can hamper cognitive functions and even disrupt your sense of smell and taste.

However, long COVID is still being extensively researched to understand how it affects us.

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Other Frequently Asked Questions

What are the known risk factors of long COVID?

Those at greater risk of developing long COVID include the elderly, particularly those over 50 and/or with preexisting health conditions; women; those with more than five symptoms while infected with COVID-19; and those requiring hospitalization due to COVID-19. However, as of yet, there is no clear link between having severe COVID and developing long COVID symptoms.

Is long COVID infectious?

No, it is not. Long COVID occurs after your initial COVID infection, and by then the virus has already been treated. As mentioned earlier, potential viral fragments may remain, but they are no longer virally active and cannot replicate. However, if you are reinfected, you should take all necessary precautions and seek medical help immediately.

Will I still test positive if I have long COVID symptoms?

No, as Long COVID symptoms are due to your body’s response to the virus that continues after your recovery from COVID.

What is the prevalence of long COVID?

In December 2021, nearly 20,000 Malaysians were living with long COVID. Prevalence rates differ from setting to setting. One medical professional suggests that it occurs in one in 10 persons, based on data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics.

Are children at risk of long COVID?

While long COVID is said to be less common in children and adolescents, compared to adults, they are still at risk of developing long COVID symptoms. Children generally develop mild symptoms when infected, or do not have any symptoms at all, and can still infect others. They may develop fatigue or tiredness, headaches, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.

As the long term effects of COVID on children are still not widely understood, more research is needed to understand it better to provide the right treatment plan for children.

Treatment of Long COVID

Because of how new the COVID pandemic is, there is no one treatment to cure COVID. Instead, a multidisciplinary approach is required to tackle its effects on people. Once it is treated and the symptoms no longer present themselves, usually within four weeks, then you are allowed to be discharged.

If you may be developing symptoms of long COVID, do not immediately assume it is long COVID. Seek medical attention immediately and let the doctors assess your health. Because there is currently no one test to immediately identify COVID-19, doctors will need to conduct a “diagnosis of exclusion” that aims to rule out other causes of your symptoms. A thorough health screening will be done as well to further confirm results and may include various tests.

Long COVID rehabilitation aims to give a complete, holistic approach to managing long COVID symptoms. It caters to varying degrees of COVID infection in people through intensive rehabilitation programs. If you are enrolled in such a program, medical professionals will work closely with you to help formulate a dedicated care plan to address your health needs. They will assist you in recovering from long COVID’s effects while slowly promoting physical activity as your condition steadily improves.

Rehabilitation also requires a multidisciplinary approach to help your recovery. Programs may include occupational therapy, speech therapy, or even psychological support. Rehabilitation can even continue on an outpatient basis as well if need be.

Early rehabilitation may be beneficial in preventing long COVID complications from persisting later in life.

Coping with Long COVID

If you or your loved one have long COVID, and are receiving or have yet to receive treatment/rehabilitation for it, here are some tips to help you cope with the symptoms while you recover.

  • Pace yourself
  • Break down tasks into smaller chunks
  • Adjust your schedule to your energy levels
  • Have frequent short rests over fewer, longer ones
  • Connect with friends and family as much as possible (while keeping everyone safe)
  • Stay active as much as possible
  • Engage in fun activities
  • Reduce distractions
  • Take notes

Communication with your family and close friends will be instrumental in keeping you moving forward with your recovery. Share your concerns with them, and find ways to compromise with one another regarding responsibilities and other matters. Having a strong support system can go a long way in helping you recover.

Equally important is to take good care of yourself. Long COVID will take time to recover from, and it varies from person to person. Take one day at a time, and be kind to yourself. If need be, consider looking into professional help to counsel you, or seek out support groups where you can share your story and find support from others going through long COVID.

Prevention of Long COVID

Currently, the best way to prevent long COVID is to prevent contracting COVID-19. Getting protected as soon as possible via vaccination is currently the most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones. It is also important to practice social/physical distancing at all times, wear a mask while out in public places, and follow standard operating procedures as set by the Health Ministry.

As noted by WHO, the vaccine still “depends on its ability to prevent infection in the first place”. The vaccine does not make you immune to COVID but protects you from the worst of its effects if you are infected. A study by the Lancet found that the chances of developing post-COVID symptoms in people who have received two vaccine doses were halved.

Research is also being conducted to find a way to address long COVID symptoms. You can ask your doctor about any clinical trials being conducted on the subject, and if you are interested, you can volunteer for one. Your participation, regardless of the results, can be beneficial towards finding a cure or a solution to the problems surrounding long COVID.

If you are looking for more information on the COVID-19 pandemic, you can find additional resources here. If you are interested in our services, you can view our COVID-19 response here.

Living with Long COVID

Recovering from COVID-19 is rarely a smooth journey. The long-term effects of the virus are still being discovered and living with long COVID can be draining.  Have faith and do not hesitate to reach out for help if you need it.

Homage provides caregiving services for your loved ones at every stage. Our trained care professionals are able to provide companionship, nursing care, night caregiving, home therapy and more, to keep your loved ones active and engaged.

Provide the best care to your loved one today!  Fill up the form below for a free consultation with our Care Advisory team.


 

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About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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