Post-COVID Infection: Who Are the Long Haulers?


Of the millions who survived COVID-19 infection, not everyone will come out of it unscathed. As more studies about the disease come out, the healthcare industry learned that having the virus before may increase their antibodies against the illness—but it can also leave long-lasting symptoms.

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a new group of survivors called the long-haulers. These are individuals who experience various symptoms, some of which are still associated with their infection period, long after tests show they are already free of the pathogen.

A Comprehensive Medical Review

More healthcare providers are meeting long-haulers in their practice, which warrants a thorough investigation to understand the severity of their symptoms and perhaps establish a pattern. To do this, a team of over 30 experts from different medical centers gathered together to review data.

Based on their analyses, they learned that:

  • Post-COVID symptoms can appear long after they have recovered. Sometimes they can manifest months after the infection. According to the doctors, a more likely explanation is that the disease might have affected other organ systems left untreated.
    • One of the most common complaints is brain fog, but others are susceptible to even more severe conditions like stroke or heart failure. The infection may damage the organ permanently. It may also lead to symptoms, such as heart arrhythmias. This means that patients who experienced COVID may need to work with a cardiologist to monitor the condition of the organ.
    • Post-COVID symptoms can happen to anyone with the infection. However, the likelihood is higher among men and women with preexisting conditions or who had been hospitalized because of severe or critical infection.

What About the Symptoms?

According to this team of doctors, one of the chief complaints is chest pain, which affects at least 20 percent of the patients they’ve seen. But the Mayo Clinic added two more on its May 2021 study.

These people, whom they believed to be affected by the post-COVID-19 syndrome (PCS), are likely to experience fatigue and mood disorders. In particular, 80 percent said they had unusual fatigue, with 33 percent confessing that they have difficulties doing basic activities of daily living. Around the same percentage had a hard time going back to unrestricted work.

In 2020, Anglia Ruskin University revealed that tinnitus, characterized by ringing in the ears, could also be a possible long-COVID symptom. In their research, which covered over 45 countries, most of those affected already had the condition before the infection, so it seems that the disease only made it worse. However, a small percentage also complained that theirs might have been triggered because of the virus.

In India, experts warn that post-COVID complications may include the reactivation of the herpes virus and nail issues. They may also introduce body pain, which may be severe for those who already suffer from it.

What the Experts Recommend

Government and healthcare policies are focused on treating patients with the infection, and there’s less scrutiny or investigation on what happens to them after. The rise of COVID long-haulers shows that the battle isn’t over as soon as these people leave the hospitals. In fact, they may never really recover—only time and more research can tell.

For this reason, experts strongly recommend dedicating a special clinic or healthcare team mainly to keep track and help these post-COVID patients. These experts may include professionals who provide chiropractic care to improve mobility, combat fatigue, and even decrease the risk of further inflammation.

There’s also occupational therapist, who can assist patients resume to their normal work activity, as well as cardiologists, neurologists, internal medicine specialists, hearing experts, and even psychiatrists and psychologists for those patients dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.

Currently, the Mayo Clinic is one of the centers that offer an activity rehabilitation plan for COVID long-haulers, and it has been doing so since June 2020.

Healthcare experts also want patients to learn to advocate for themselves. Dr. Ani Nalbandian, a Columbia University cardiology fellow and one of the members of the team of doctors who performed a data review, said that many of these patients’ doctors could not associate the symptoms with the infection. Thus, they remained untreated.

When talking to their general practitioner, patients need to be more vocal about what they’re going through, especially if they are unsure if these are because of COVID.

Joining clinical trials and patient advocacy groups can also be helpful to long-COVID patients for a more scientific assessment of the effects of the disease, particularly in the long term.

Over a year since it began, and still, the scientific community has much to know about the infection. But as more COVID patients become more open about their lingering symptoms, the more healthcare can provide prompt assistance to lessen the suffering or treat them.

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