Jan 23, 2022 Features / Columnists
By Dr. Zulfikar Bux
Kaieteur News – Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Vanderbilt Medical Center
A few months ago, I highlighted that there are long-term effects of COVID-19 that are showing up in patients and may be a worrying trend for survivors of COVID-19. Unfortunately, studies are showing these effects in more survivors than previously thought. Some studies have shown effects in up to 70 percent of survivors but the common consensus seems to be around 10 percent of the population showing these long-term effects.
Patients affected by this are called “long haulers” and scientists are calling this new phenomenon Post-COVID-19 syndrome. What is surprising, is that while Post-COVID-19 syndrome is seen more commonly in those with the severe form of the disease, doctors are seeing increasing numbers in patients who were asymptomatic or had the milder form of the disease.
Today, I will highlight some scary facts about life after COVID-19 so that we can understand and help support those with Post-COVID-19 syndrome.
What are the symptoms of Post-COVID syndrome?
Just as COVID-19 itself can come with a range of symptoms, so, too, can Post-COVID-19 syndrome. The most common symptoms that can linger include:
-Brain fog, including an inability to concentrate and impaired memory
-Loss of taste and/or smell
-Complications from organ damage caused by the infection
Which organs can be damaged?
Although COVID-19 is seen as a disease that primarily affects the lungs, it can damage many other organs as well. This organ damage may increase the risk of long-term health problems. Organs that may be affected by COVID-19 include:
Heart – imaging tests taken months after recovery from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in people who experienced only mild COVID-19 symptoms. This may increase the risk of heart failure or other heart complications in the future.
Lungs – the type of pneumonia often associated with COVID-19 can cause long-standing damage to the tiny air sacs in the lungs. The resulting scar tissue can lead to long-term breathing problems.
Brain – COVID-19 can cause strokes, seizures and Guillain-Barre syndrome — a condition that causes temporary paralysis. Researchers are still trying to understand how COVID-19 precipitates these conditions leading to long-term complications. They are also looking at evidence which may suggest that it increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Kidneys and Liver – COVID-19 causes extensive blood vessel damage in some patients. The kidneys and liver have extensive vascular networks and are sensitive to such damage. As a result, there are many patients that are suffering from liver and kidney failure if they survived the COVID-19 infection.
Mood and fatigue problems
People who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 often have to be treated in a hospital’s intensive care unit, with mechanical assistance such as ventilators to breathe. Simply surviving this experience can make a person more likely to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety later.
Because it’s difficult to predict long-term outcomes from the new COVID-19 virus, scientists are looking at the long-term effects seen in related viruses, such as the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Many people who have recovered from SARS have gone on to develop chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex disorder characterised by extreme fatigue that worsens with physical or mental activity but doesn’t improve with rest. The same may be true for people who have had COVID-19.
Who’s more at risk for developing Post-COVID-19 syndrome?
Post-COVID-19 syndrome can be seen in people who went to the hospital with concerning symptoms or who had advanced symptoms that required a brief hospital stay, but it can also occur in people who had mild symptoms and self-treated at home. The actual frequency of Post-COVID-19 syndrome is still largely up for debate, and different studies find this condition to be more or less common in various groups of people.
Those who seem to be most at risk of developing Post-COVID-19 syndrome include:
-Adults over the age of 50
-People who experienced a more severe case
-Individuals with underlying health conditions, particularly cardiopulmonary issues, hypertension, diabetes or obesity
It’s very obvious that COVID-19 is more than just overcoming a bout of flu-like illness. The lasting effects are too common and can be dangerous. The best way to avoid Post-COVID-19 syndrome is to avoid COVID-19 itself.
Practice preventative measures and avoid getting the virus so that you do not have to face life with Post-COVID-19 syndrome.
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