Tens of millions of Americans have gotten COVID-19 since the disease first emerged in the United States in early 2020.
The disease can cause mild or serious symptoms, including hospitalization and death in the most severe cases. Some people may experience no symptoms at all.
But for many people, recovering from the initial infection is not the end of their COVID-19 experience. Millions of people experience long-term effects of COVID-19, often weeks or months after the infection goes away. This is post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) — more commonly known as “long COVID” or “long-haul COVID.”
What Is Long COVID?
Long COVID happens when people experience new, returning, or ongoing health problems after recovering from an initial COVID-19 infection.
For many people, the symptoms of COVID-19 typically go away within a week or two, but long COVID conditions can last for a month or longer.
Long COVID can happen to people of any age or health condition. Even people who did not have symptoms during their initial infection may get symptoms of long COVID. According to an October 2021 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than half of worldwide COVID-19 cases may result in long COVID.
It is not yet known what causes long COVID, but research is ongoing. The condition is now recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Long COVID Symptoms
There are a variety of different symptoms associated with long COVID. Those may include:
- Breathing problems.
- Tiredness or fatigue.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (brain fog).
- Trouble sleeping.
- Chest pain.
- Stomach pain.
- Muscle/joint pain.
- Heart palpitations.
- Tingling/”pins-and-needles” feeling.
- Changes in smell or taste.
- Changes in menstrual cycle.
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Some people who had severe COVID-19 may experience effects to multiple organs after their initial illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those symptoms can last weeks or months and involve multiple organ systems, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain.
People who recover from severe COVID-19 also could suffer from autoimmune conditions. This happens when an overactive immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and typically causes swelling in those areas.
Some people also may develop a condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) after COVID-19 infection. This condition can cause inflammation in many different parts of the body. Although it typically involves children (MIS-C), adults can get it as well (MIS-A).
Treatment and Support for Long COVID
There is no specific treatment plan or cure for people suffering from long COVID. However, you can get treatment to relieve the symptoms you’re experiencing.
The UPMC Post-COVID Recovery Clinic can diagnose, treat, and provide support for people with long-term symptoms of COVID-19. If you’re suffering from long COVID and would like to make an appointment, call 412-648-6161 and press 2, or email UPMCCovidClinic@UPMC.edu. No referral is needed.
In general, treatment is based around your symptoms, but managing your stress is also important for people dealing with post-COVID conditions, according to the CDC. Here are ways to do that:
- Take a break from watching or reading the news or from social media.
- Try meditation, mindfulness, or other relaxation techniques.
- Eat healthy.
- Exercise if you can.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Talk to others about what you’re feeling — either a loved one you trust or a licensed therapist.
Preventing Long COVID
Anyone who gets COVID-19 is at risk for long-term symptoms. The best way to prevent long COVID is to avoid getting COVID-19. Wear a facemask, use social distancing in situations where you may be exposed, and get the COVID-19 vaccine.
People over 5 years old are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. You can schedule a vaccination appointment at UPMC by visiting our COVID-19 vaccines page or calling 844-876-2822 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
For more information on UPMC’s efforts against COVID-19, visit UPMC.com/coronavirus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Post-COVID Conditions. Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Caring for People with Post-COVID Conditions. Link
Destin Groff, BA, Ashley Sun, BA, Anna E. Ssentongo, DrPH, MPH, et al, Journal of the American Medical Association, Short-term and Long-term Rates of Postacute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection: A Systematic Review. Link
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