Long COVID is a health condition characterized by multiple, persistent symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, pain, and other symptoms occurring in people who have recently had COVID-19.
Symptoms can begin with the original infection or they can begin within 3 months of the original infection and they last for at least two months.
Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog.” However other symptoms like headaches, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and changes in hearing, taste, and smell are also reported. Sometimes Long COVID symptoms also include inflammation of organ systems or heart problems. Sometimes symptoms from the original infection persist for much longer than the infection itself, and sometimes new symptoms pop up after the original infection resolves. Symptoms may also come and go. Long COVID is also called post-COVID condition or post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).
Technically speaking, the case definition of long COVID-19 was set by the World Health Organization on October 6, 2021. It reads: “Post-COVID-19 condition 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.”
It’s important to have a standardized definition of any disease so that researchers are all on the same page as we try to understand it. A clinical case definition can also ease the process of getting a diagnosis. It allows clinicians to benchmark what you are experiencing against a standard and provide you with an accurate diagnosis and appropriate care.
With millions and millions of people recovering from COVID-19 and between 2% and 10% of them experiencing symptoms that persist for weeks or months after infection, long COVID is now very common.
If you think you might have long COVID, reach out to your clinician for advice. There is no specific treatment for the condition, but there are lifestyle changes and medications that can help you manage some symptoms. Other tips include:
🟡 Be sure to get enough sleep as you recover. This may be much more sleep than usual for you.
🟡 Plan your day around when you usually have the most energy and pace yourself. Do the most important tasks first.
🟡 A daily routine can help you regulate energy and mood, and may help with memory.
🟡 If you are having trouble with routine daily activities or physical activity, seek out a physical therapist or an occupational therapist–these specialties can be really helpful.
🟡 Reach out to friends and family when you need support and help.
🟡 Join online LongCOVID support groups. Other people with this condition may be able to offer suggestions and support.
🟡 And of course, if you are *ever* having trouble breathing or having chest pain, seek emergency medical help immediately.
Having COVID-19 is not a moral failure, and having long-term symptoms from it is not a judgement. Be kind to yourself and have patience. Some days will be better than others. Most people do get better with time. Hang in there.
Some previous TNG essays on this topic:
Can the vaccines help prevent Long Covid?