While coronavirus passes quickly for most, some people are suffering long-term effects. Here we outline the symptoms of long Covid, and some tips to help manage them.
New research has shown one in five people with coronavirus develop longer term symptoms. In fact around 186,000 people are now suffering problems for up to 12 weeks according to the Office for National Statistics.
What exactly is long Covid?
Long Covid is a term to describe the effects of Covid-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness. The health watchdog NICE defines long Covid as lasting for more than 12 weeks, although some other people consider symptoms that last more than eight weeks to be long Covid.
More details of how many people are affected by long Covid are still emerging, but research suggests around one in five people who test positive for Covid-19 have symptoms for five weeks or longer. For around one in ten people, they last 12 weeks or longer.
In the initial (acute) phase of the illness, severe Covid-19 can cause pneumonia and respiratory failure, which can result in permanent damage and scarring to the lungs. But Covid-19 is not only a lung illness: it can cause other life-changing complications. In particular, because it can increase the risk of blood clots, it can lead to deep vein thrombosis, heart attacks and stroke.
What are the symptoms of long Covid?
Most people who had symptoms recovered quickly and were able to resume their normal lives after a few days. But for some, the effects of the virus can last for weeks or months. This has been known as “long Covid”.
For some, it can seem like a cycle of improving and then getting worse again. These long-term effects aren’t only amongst those who needed go to hospital, or even who felt seriously unwell when they first caught the virus.
Lasting symptoms of coronavirus can include:
- anxiety and depression
- chest pains
- joint or muscle pain
- not being able to think straight or focus (‘brain fog’)
How long does it take to recover from long Covid?
Unfortunately, there is currently no way to predict how long recovery from long Covid will take. Experience from other viruses suggests that most symptoms should go within three months, while tiredness may last up to six months. But that may not apply to everyone.
Is long Covid contagious?
Long Covid is not contagious. Long Covid symptoms are caused by your body’s response to the virus continuing beyond the initial illness.
To avoid passing coronavirus on to others, you should self-isolate for 10 days from your original symptoms or positive test, or if after 10 days you still have a temperature, or runny nose or sneezing, or sickness or diarrhoea, until these symptoms have gone.
Where to go for help
Thousands of patients suffering with the long term symptoms of coronavirus can now access specialist help at more than 60 sites, NHS England announced last week.
The assessment centres are taking referrals from GPs for people experiencing brain fog, anxiety, depression, breathlessness, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms.
NHS England has provided £10 million for the network of clinics, which started opening in November. There are now 69 operating across the country with hundreds of patients already getting help.
The new centres bring together doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists to offer both physical and psychological assessments and refer patients to the right treatment and rehabilitation services.
Patients can access services if they are referred by a GP or another healthcare professional, so that doctors can first rule out other possible underlying causes for symptoms.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said: “The NHS is taking practical action to help patients suffering ongoing health issues as a result of coronavirus. Bringing expert clinicians together in these clinics will deliver an integrated approach to support patients access vital rehabilitation, as well as helping develop a greater understanding of long covid and its debilitating symptoms.”
Some tips for managing your symptoms:
Manage fatigue and breathlessness
Pace yourself – plan what you’re going to do and don’t over-exert yourself.
Try to break tasks which feel difficult down into smaller chunks, and alternate easier and harder activities.
Consider the best time of the day to do certain activities based on your energy levels.
Frequent short rests are better than a few longer ones, so rest before you become exhausted.
Don’t stop doing things that make you feel breathless. If you stop using your muscles, they’ll get weaker, which can make you more breathless when you try to use them.
Try to gradually increase the amount of exercise you do. Try going for short walks or doing simple strength exercises and build up from there.
If you use a walking stick or a frame, lean forward on it when you feel breathless.
The ME Association has published a leaflet about post-Covid fatigue. You can also call them on 0344 576 5326 for further support.
Boost your mood and stay on top of your mental health
Be kind to yourself during your recovery – be prepared that some days will be worse than others
Connecting with other people can help you feel happier – make sure to reach out to family and friends.
Having a daily routine can be good for your mood and sense of stability.
Stay active – continuing to move will help release endorphins and improve your mood.
Tips for thinking or memory problems
Make notes to help you remember things – whether it’s in work meetings or medical appointments.
Try to reduce distractions.
It can help to make a clear plan before approaching any new or complicated problem or situation. Break it down into steps, and keep checking your plan as you follow it.
Relieving joint or muscle pain
Flexibility exercises (like stretches, yoga and tai chi) and strength exercises (like climbing stairs, lifting weights and working with resistance bands) can be useful. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime.
For further information on long Covid please click here.
With thanks to the NHS and British Heart Foundation for their invaluable help in creating this article.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.