How do you know if you have long-term COVID – and what to do about it

Over the past two years, new Covid cases and deaths have risen and fallen along with mutations in covariates and subvariables. Experts say one constant: a steady increase in protracted Covid cases.

The term “long Covid” refers to a wide range of new, persistent, or recurring health conditions that can affect people weeks or months after they have recovered from a Covid infection. Common symptoms include fatigue, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, brain fog, dizziness, stomach pain, and altered sense of taste or smell, the CDC says.

Dr. says. Jason Malley, MD, director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Long COVID Clinic in Boston, which is part of a multicenter study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Long-Covid is estimated to have affected as many as 23 million Americans as of March, according to the US Government Accountability Office. Part of the problem is that its symptoms can vary from person to person, making it difficult for experts to understand — and difficult for doctors to diagnose.

“There is still a significant lack of knowledge and awareness of long-term Covid, even within the medical community,” Malley says.

To help you navigate those unknowns, CNBC Make It spoke with a long-running series of Covid experts about what to look for, whether you’re at risk and what tools might be able to help:

How do you know if you have long covid?

If you test positive for Covid, consider a self-examination about a month after you’ve recovered. Look for common symptoms such as changes in [your] thinking, memory and [your] The ability to perform at work or work effectively at home.”

Some of the prolonged symptoms of Covid may not seem clearly related to the condition at first. Take fatigue, for example: Maley says a delayed bout of fatigue, even after days of strenuous activity, can be a sign of prolonged Covid.

“You may not feel exhausted when you are active at the moment, but after hours or even a day or two, you may become very tired,” he says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with “more severe Covid-19 illnesses” and “pre-Covid-19 underlying health conditions” may be more likely to develop prolonged Covid symptoms. Therefore, this self-examination can be especially important for anyone who has been hospitalized with Covid, or needs intensive care to recover.

But everyone should remain vigilant: Research published in the scientific journal Pathogens in November 2021 indicates that a small portion of people with long-term Covid had no symptoms, not even knowing they had Covid in the first place.

What should you do if you have a long covid?

Dr. says. Thomas Gott, MD, associate chief of medicine and director of ambulatory care services at the University of Staten Island Hospital. He says symptoms usually last for about three months. He notes that in rare cases, this time frame can extend to six months or more.

There are currently no comprehensive treatments for long-term Covid patients, but experts say some home strategies may be helpful. For example, if you experience a lot of tiredness after recovering from Covid, try to identify activities that cause you extreme fatigue and intentionally avoid them for a short time.

“It’s called speed,” Malley explains.

Speed ​​regulation also involves adjusting your daily schedule to include built-in rest periods, both for your mind and body, to prevent “extreme” crashes. Malley adds that avoiding these bouts of exhaustion can help you recover more effectively from prolonged Covid.

Maley also says that his patients with shortness of breath often find yoga-based breathing exercises helpful — long, slow deep breathing through your nose. He says some breathing exercises help strengthen the breathing muscles, while others help control breathing and the sensation of breathing.

Typically, long-term Covid patients do not have any damage to lung function, Malley says: “We think [the shortness of breath] It might relate to the muscles and nerves that control breathing, not an injury inside the lung like a scar or something left over from an infection.”

Does vaccination help prevent long covid?

The CDC notes that unvaccinated people may be at greater risk of contracting the Covid virus long after infection. Most of the studies to date have been “a little bit mixed in terms of how strong the protection they might provide,” Malley says.

doctor. Nisha Viswanathan, co-director of the UCLA Health COVID-19 Mobile Monitoring Program and the Long COVID Program, agrees. “We know from our early studies that one in three people [were] The unvaccinated were showing signs of prolonged Covid disease,” she says. But now, with a mixed group of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, researchers are seeking more clarity on who still has long-term symptoms.

Covid vaccines can reduce the severity of illness for people infected with the virus. Likewise, Malli says, multiple studies indicate that vaccinated people who have had long-term Covid have less severe symptoms than unvaccinated people with long-term Covid.

But, he adds, he cannot guarantee that a vaccination will completely protect anyone from prolonged Covid – at least, not without more research.

Who are most at risk?

Gut notes that recent mutations of the Covid virus cause an increase in milder infections – and since milder infections appear to cause fewer prolonged Covid cases, he does not expect the next wave to lead to a significant increase in Covid.

However, Mali says he is currently seeing patients of all age groups with protracted Covid symptoms, most of whom are young people. Some studies also indicate that long-term COVID-19 affects women more than men.

Mali says the reason for this is not yet known.

Viswanathan says most of the long-time Covid patients already have pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and obesity. “So, there are ways to help prevent this from happening [long Covid]in addition to vaccination, it already consists of cleaner eating [and] Do regular exercise.”

It’s not a “guaranteed” strategy, Viswanathan says: many healthy individuals remain ill with Covid for a long time.

“But I would say their numbers are much lower,” she adds.

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