Although poorly understood, some people have symptoms after COVID-19 that don't go away.
Throughout the pandemic, millions of people were infected with one strain or another of the COVID-19 virus. Some experienced a few days of mild illness or no symptoms at all while others were sick for far longer and battled more serious symptoms. But whether your experience with COVID was mild or more severe, you may now be among those who are experiencing lingering or returning symptoms, referred to as long COVID or post COVID.
There is not one way to define long COVID. People who experience it may have a wide range of symptoms. Some of these symptoms can last weeks or months. Others still experience symptoms years after their initial COVID infection. The symptoms that appear during long COVID may not be the same as the symptoms initially experienced when a person was first sick. In fact, in some cases, people who never had any symptoms upon initial infection develop symptoms that then linger.
Some of the more common symptoms reported by people experiencing long COVID include:
- Respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath or coughing
- Cardiovascular symptoms, such as heart palpitations or chest pain
- Neurological symptoms, such as brain fog, headaches, dizziness or changes in smell/taste
- Digestive symptoms, such as stomach pain or diarrhea
- Sleep difficulties
- Joint or muscle pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Menstrual cycle changes
How to Determine If You Have Long COVID
There's no specific test that can identify whether any symptoms you have are directly related to having COVID-19. A diagnosis of long COVID is based on your health history, a medical exam and your symptoms. Sometimes making a diagnosis can be difficult, since symptoms may come and go or you may have different symptoms that last varying lengths of time. Some people's symptoms are especially hard to explain or manage because diagnostic tests appear normal.
Treating Long COVID
Since some people experience symptoms for a very long time, doctors are beginning to treat long COVID much in the same way as other chronic diseases are treated—with ongoing but sometimes changing treatment approaches.
And just as with any chronic disease, it can be difficult to live with long COVID. If you are experiencing symptoms of long COVID, you may find that joining a support group can help you manage the emotional and mental strain caused by this poorly understood yet chronic condition.
It is still not yet known exactly what causes long COVID symptoms or why some people experience this condition when others don't. But in July 2021, long COVID was officially recognized as a condition that could result in disability under the American with Disabilities Act.
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Date Last Reviewed: May 18, 2023
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD