The coronavirus never did “just disappear,” as someone once promised; in fact, it has left at least 10% of its victims with a chronic illness that may never disappear. These people are dubbed “long haulers” and they have Long COVID, or Post-COVID Syndrome, a series of debilitating symptoms that can be life-ruining. “The most commonly reported long-term symptoms” of Long COVID include the following, says the CDC—read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
Fatigue—not just “sleepiness” but a full-body, soul-sucking, energy-draining fatigue—is the #1 most common symptom of Long COVID. “The fatigue that comes with chronic illness isn’t simply feeling worn out or like you just need a nap,” says Tessa Miller, author of the essential new book What Doesn’t Kill You, about dealing with chronic illness. “It’s consuming and even debilitating, and it might not resolve just by getting a night of sleep or even resting for several days. I’m always trying to explain that yes, chronically ill people do require as much rest as we say we do.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci calls this an inability to concentrate but it can be so much worse. “This is a common topic in my chronic illness support groups,” says Miller. “Brain fog can happen from illnesses themselves”—like Long COVID—”or from medications that treat our illnesses. It may feel like you’re not fully awake, like you’re going through the day feeling constantly sleepy or in an almost dream-like state. It can also feel like you have a hard time concentrating or remembering things, even things that happened recently–and that can make you feel frightened, anxious, or panicked. You might feel like you can’t care for yourself or your loved ones as well as you normally could, and that fogginess is getting in the way of your work and daily tasks.”
Given that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, the lungs are naturally impacted. “Nurse Sandy Iskandar says that she became sick with COVID-19 over the summer and now more than six months later, she’s still experiencing the long-side effects of the virus,” according to Fox10. “She’s experiencing forgetfulness, shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches.” “It’s unpredictable. You can be totally fine for a couple of days and then all of a sudden on the third day you forget how to tie your shoes,” she says.
A COVID cough is often dry. Scott Cohen, 48, a retired police medic from Long Island, N.Y., tells EMS World that post-COVID, he has a cough and exacerbation of pre-existing sinusitis. “Over the years, like many first responders, I have become desensitized to many things,” Cohen says. “I was more concerned about my wife and kids if something happened to me.” Now, though: “I remember being in severe physical pain, discomfort, and an inability to breathe.”
“Viral infections are a known cause of acute arthralgia and arthritis,” according to a study in The Lancet. The way COVID works “makes it plausible that COVID-19 patients might have features of systemic inflammation, including viral arthritis,” according to News Medical Life Sciences.
“I was first sick in February and it wasn’t until August that I developed chest pains and stitches in my side,” Marina Oshana tells UC Davis. “You don’t want that to happen to you. Don’t be complacent. Do what doctors tell you to do — wear a mask and keep your distance from people. You just don’t know what might happen.”
“If people take one thing away from reading my book, I hope it’s this: your mind and your body aren’t two separate entities,” says Miller. “They’re a partnership, and an intimately connected one at that. Depression can cause physical symptoms (body aches, headaches, stomach pain, and other unexplained discomfort) and physical symptoms, especially chronic ones, can cause depression. (And very often, depression overlaps with anxiety.)”
“Ah anxiety, my old friend,” says Miller. “This is such a common symptom of chronic illness that I dedicated a whole appendix (on top of the existing writing within the chapters) to it in the book. The very thing that carries you around the world (your body) has become wild, unpredictable, unrecognizable. Of course you’re anxious! You feel irritable and exhausted, like your mind is constantly spinning and you can’t concentrate. You can’t sleep, or when you do, you have nightmares. You’re isolating from your support systems. You’re trying to distract yourself all the time to avoid getting at the root of what’s making you feel this way. More severely, you might experience panic attacks, which speaking from experience, feel like literal death.”
Dr. Fauci has said long haulers suffer “myalgia”—which “describes muscle aches and pain, which can involve ligaments, tendons and fascia, the soft tissues that connect muscles, bones and organs,” according to Johns Hopkins.
“Disabling headache can persist after COVID-19 resolution,” says one new study in SAGE Journals. Their “migraine-like features” are tied to “systemic inflammatory responses.” Or, to put it in layman’s terms, “it felt like a jackhammer,” says Broadway star Danny Burstein. You may also have an intermittent fever.
Heart palpitations are not uncommon among long haulers. Dr. Fauci is also worried about heart inflammation. “This needs to be repeated in other labs and followed up,” he told the American Heart Association. “But if it is true, it’s something we need long-term follow up (on).”
“More serious long-term complications appear to be less common but have been reported,” says the CDC. “These have been noted to affect different organ systems in the body. These include:
- Cardiovascular: inflammation of the heart muscle
- Respiratory: lung function abnormalities
- Renal: acute kidney injury
- Dermatologic: rash, hair loss
- Neurological: smell and taste problems, sleep issues, difficulty with concentration, memory problems
- Psychiatric: depression, anxiety, changes in mood.”
Tell your doctor if you suffer any long COVID symptoms. Although there is no cure, they may be able to treat your symptoms. And check out a support group like the one at Body Politic. “Sharing your stories will help people,” says Miller. “I promise, and it will help you, too.”
Tessa Miller’s What Doesn’t Kill You is available wherever books are sold.