What is Long COVID?

“Long COVID” is the term for people diagnosed with coronavirus and whose symptoms last for four weeks or more after their initial infection. It can occur regardless of how mild or severe an individual’s initial infection was. Symptoms can last for months and possibly years.

What are the signs and symptoms of Long COVID?

While there are many, the most common symptoms of Long COVID that patients report include:

  • fatigue
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • difficulty concentrating or performing tasks
  • headache
  • sleep problems
  • joint/muscle aches

These symptoms are associated with Long COVID, but they are also symptoms of other common illnesses. That’s why it is important for a patient to be evaluated by his or her medical provider and all potential causes be considered since treatment will depend on the cause.

How common is Long COVID and how many people experience it?

About 10 to 30 percent of people who are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may develop symptoms that last beyond four weeks.

How is Long COVID currently being treated?

There are no known treatments for Long COVID. Treatment is highly individualized and depends on the main symptoms a patient is experiencing. Because there are no specific treatments at this time, it is especially important to make sure there is no other underlying diagnosis that is treatable prior to making the diagnosis of Long COVID.

How can you prevent Long COVID?

Prevention is key! If you don’t get COVID, you cannot develop Long COVID. The most effective way to reduce your risk of COVID infection and Long COVID is by getting vaccinated if you are 12 years and older.

Additionally, wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose, social distancing, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces are other ways to protect yourself and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What is the new Long COVID clinic doing?

The Long COVID Clinic has been treating patients with Long COVID for almost 10 months. Our role is to evaluate patients, counsel patients on what is and isn’t known about Long COVID, and develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient. This may include referrals for additional testing or to other specialists, such as a cardiologist, pulmonologist, neurologist and/or physical therapist.

What are we still learning about Long COVID?

There is so much unknown about Long COVID, its cause, how long it lasts, and long-term health effects. We also do not know what causes certain patients to develop it, while the majority will completely recover.

Research is currently being conducted to answer these questions. Once we have a better idea of the answers, we can start to work on treatment.

If you were diagnosed with COVID and believe you may be experiencing Long COVID, please contact our Long COVID Clinic.

Jennie E. Johnson, MD

Dr. Jennie Johnson is an infectious diseases specialist at the Lifespan Lyme Disease Center.