Long Haulers Still Feeling COVID-19 Effects
We’ve all gotten sick at one time or another. And then gotten better. For most of us, it’s happened a number of times throughout our lives.
Sometimes we get over a mild cold in a week or less. Usually with the flu it takes longer before we return to 100 percent.
Even if some of us were infected with the coronavirus, we probably were back to full strength less than two weeks later.
But some COVID-19 victims – no matter when they began feeling ill – still haven’t returned to full health. They’re being called “long haulers.”
Long-term Health Problem Risk
Doctors and scientists don’t know why some people have long-term negative effects from COVID-19.
But those effects can make their lives miserable. They can be debilitating. And can increase the risk of long-term health problems.
COVID-19 symptoms sometimes persist for months after the initial infection. Even in people who experienced only mild symptoms.
The virus has proven capable of damaging lungs, hearts and brains. Especially in those experiencing post-COVID syndrome or “long-COVID 19.”
Affecting Young and Old
Most long haulers are older individuals. And those with previous serious medical conditions.
But young, previously healthy people can also experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms. It can take them weeks or months to fully recover.
What kind of symptoms do those with post-COVID syndrome exhibit? It varies by individuals. But they can include fatigue, cough and shortness of breath. As well as joint and chest pain. And diarrhea, rash, sleep issues and pins-and-needles feelings.
Other symptoms are fever, muscle pain and headache. Plus accelerated heartbeat, dizziness, depression and anxiety. And loss of smell and taste. For some, these symptoms and general weakness worsen after physical activity.
Virus Can Damage Organs
In addition to continuing to feel lousy weeks after becoming infected, these patients can experience organ damage.
Small air sacs in the lungs can be damaged. The scar tissue that results can lead to long-term breathing problems.
Heart muscles can also be damaged, as shown by imaging tests. Heart complications including heart failure could be in their futures. That’s according to the Mayo Clinic.
As mentioned, the brain can also be affected. The virus can cause strokes and seizures. As well as Guillain-Barre syndrome. The Mayo Clinic also says COVID-19 could increase the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Emotional Issues Arise
As if all that weren’t enough, the virus that became a global pandemic can also affect livers and kidneys.
It’s not surprising that the virus can also cause emotional and mental issues for long haulers.
Some people kept alive in hospitals with ventilators developed post-traumatic stress syndrome. As well as depression and anxiety.
Medical centers are opening specialized clinics. They provide care for people with persistent symptoms after their COVID-19 recoveries. And researchers recommend that doctors closely monitor patients infected by the virus.
One Year Later, Nurse Still Suffering
Long-term physical problems from COVID-19 are scary. But some folks are even more fearful about potential brain issues. Including memory problems.
National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported about a 38-year-old nurse. She became infected in June 2020. Along with others in her unit at a San Antonio, Texas hospital.
The first symptom she noticed was not being able to taste ice cream after returning home from a shift. Although not painful, it’s a frightening symptom because the brain is where we sense taste and odors.
Before long she was back in the hospital. This time as a patient for a two-week stay. For months afterward, she experienced extreme fatigue, tremors, memory lapses and thinking problems. Once at the dinner table, she forgot how to use a fork.
‘It’s Downright Scary’
Researchers are now studying similar patients. They’re trying to determine if COVID-19 affected their brains. And whether it could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Recently these were among the issues discussed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. It was held in Denver, Colorado.
NPR reports that genetic studies found this. Some of the same genes increasing the risk for getting severe COVID-19 also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Gabriel de Erausquin is a professor of neurology at UT Health San Antonio. He says Alzheimer’s diagnoses might be more common in older patients who had severe COVID-19 symptoms. As he says, “It’s downright scary.”
Sense of Smell Loss Connected to Brain Issues?
Millions of Americans have developed cognitive or mood problems after becoming infected. Including what they describe as “brain fog.”
De Erausquin said mental problems seem more common in COVID-19 patients who lose their sense of smell. Those problems include memory, thinking, planning and mood.
Effects on the brain seem to vary with age. Older people become forgetful. Including forgetting words. Younger people are more prone to anxiety and depression.
COVID-19 is a relatively new illness. So, the jury is still out regarding long-term conditions and consequences. From now until we know more, the best thing we can do for ourselves is whatever it takes to avoid becoming infected.