Long COVID

Also called post-COVID syndrome, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID and chronic COVID

Long COVID is a term to describe the effects of COVID-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness.

What 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. You might also hear it called post-COVID syndrome, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID or chronic COVID. There are people with long COVID worldwide, including in Aotearoa New Zealand.

What are the symptoms of long COVID?

Symptoms are highly varied and different from the typical COVID-19 symptoms.

People have reported symptoms such as:

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration (‘brain fog’)
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • joint pain
  • changes to your sense of smell or taste 
  • tinnitus (ringing in your ear)
  • earaches
  • feeling sick
  • diarrhoea (runny poo)
  • stomach aches
  • loss of appetite
  • fever (a high temperature)
  • cough
  • headaches
  • sore throat  
  • rashes.

People have also experienced symptoms of anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from their diagnosis, admission to hospital, ongoing illness or psychosocial effects.

Who gets long COVID?

Anyone who has had COVID-19 infection can develop long COVID. Even people who had a mild case of COVID-19 can get long COVID. It can develop soon after the initial infection and up to 12 or more months afterwards. There is no specific time that this condition lasts for. Symptoms may improve 1 week only for relapse to occur the following week. This pattern can last from 3 weeks to more than a year. 

It is still unclear if there are differences in the experience of long COVID between people of different ages, genders or ethnicities, or about the impact on those who have other underlying health issues. The incidence of prolonged illness significantly increases with age, co‑morbidities (having other health conditions as well), and how severe the initial COVID-19 illness was.

How is long COVID treated?

As long COVID is still new, scientists and healthcare providers are still working out the best ways to manage and treat it. There are no specific treatments and management usually involves managing the symptoms that affect you the most. Researchers are still working out the best rehabilitation methods.

Contact your GP or healthcare team for support with the management and treatment of your long COVID symptoms, 

Contact your GP if you develop any new or worsening symptoms, such as:
  • swelling of a leg or arm
  • losing more weight
  • a fast-beating or racing heart
  • muscle aches
  • dizziness.
Call 111 or seek urgent medical care if you have the following:
  • coughing up blood
  • severe chest pain
  • getting more breathless.

Keep track of your symptoms

Because of the lack of clarity around the symptoms and experiences of long COVID, it can be useful to keep track of your symptoms. Recording them in a diary or keeping a log can help better understand your symptoms, work out which affect you the most, and identify any patterns and changes. You may also find it useful to take this diary to your appointments with your healthcare providers. There a number of apps you can download for this purpose, or if you prefer a paper version, an example can be found here.

Vaccines

There are preliminary reports from the United States and the United Kingdom that long COVID patients are experiencing improved symptoms after their second vaccine shot. However, so far there are no peer reviewed studies on the impact of vaccines on long COVID and therefore these reports should be interpreted with caution. Scientists are calling for studies in this area urgently.

Where can I get support with long COVID?

The lack of information about Long COVID and support for those experiencing it can be frustrating. Remember you are not alone – there are people all around the world experiencing long COVID.

There are online groups established for people with long COVID where you can get support and meet others experiencing this condition:

  • Facebook group for Long COVID NZ
  • Facebook group for Long COVID UK
  • Twitter @LongCovidNZ

Learn more

Managing post–COVID-19 symptoms The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
How to manage post-viral fatigue after COVID-19 Royal College of Occupational Therapists, UK
Support for rehabilitation self-management after COVID-19 related illness World Health Organization

References

  1. Long COVID National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI), University of Auckland, NZ, 2021
  2. Post-COVID-19 conditions Auckland Region HealthPathways, NZ, 2021

Reviewed by

Dr Helen Kenealy is a geriatrician and general physician working at Counties Manukau DHB. She has a broad range of interests and has worked in a variety of settings including inpatient rehabilitation, orthgeriatrics and community geriatrics.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Helen Kenealy, Geriatrician and General Physician, Counties Manukau DHB Last reviewed: 07 Oct 2021