Can COVID-19 infections cause symptoms lasting weeks or months after infection? This is the question that I’ve been getting a LOT in the last few months. Many people have been reporting weird symptoms in the last several months that they can’t explain. Patient’s of mine have who have tested positive for COVID-19. Ones that have though they had COVID-19 but couldn’t get tested. So many that there seems to be a pattern. I’ve seen post-COVID conditions pop up from acute hepatitis to postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) pop up. But how do we know if symptoms we are experiencing are related to a past infection? Or probable infection in most cases?
Our clinic is not the only place noticing sequelae from COVID-19 infections. Clinics all over the country (and world) are starting to notice longer lasting effects in people. A recent CDC survey found that “of [the] symptomatic adults who had a positive outpatient test result for SARS-CoV-2 infection, 35% had not returned to their usual state of health when interviewed 2–3 weeks after testing.” This is a THIRD of those that test positive that are not getting better within the month of infection. And this is not counting those that had infections but didn’t get tested.
This is becoming so frequent a new term to describe the effect, “Post-COVID Syndrome” is now being used to identify this phenomenon.
Symptoms post-COVID can vary for people. In a recent study published in JAMA, 143 Italian patients were followed after recovering from a COVID-19 infection and their symptoms were monitored for 2 months following their infection.
The most common symptoms reported from these patients included:
- difficulty breathing
- muscle pain
- muscle weakness
- joint pain
- gastrointestinal symptoms
- loss of taste and smell.
Of the symptoms that most people reported, the most common symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain and chest pain. And none of these people had any symptoms of acute infection like fever or positive testing.
Another thing to note is that we don’t actually know any of the previous health of these people that were studied. So it may be that some people had exacerbation of previous symptoms. Or possibly complications of previous conditions. What we have seen is that people with autoimmune diseases have seen flares in their autoimmune conditions post-COVID. And some of these symptoms can last many months after infection so it’s hard to tell if it’s actually from COVID-19.
Post-COVID Follow Up
So if you feel like you have symptoms from a previous COVID infection what do you do? Well the best thing to do is bring this up with your healthcare provider. We have been having our patient monitor their health a little more closely with things like at-home pulse oximeters and blood pressure cuffs.
Some people have been referred to neurologic specialists or infectious disease specialists depending on their symptoms and condition. Regardless, you should try your best to track your symptoms and when they occur.
Symptoms like muscle weakness, difficulty breathing and increased heartrate, especially with exercise, are more alarming. If you have a history of cardiovascular disease, you should consider getting a work up to make sure your heart and lung function are fine. If your autoimmune disease has been flaring and you can’t find a trigger, consider reaching out to an autoimmune specialist.
Most symptoms from post-COVID syndrome will resolve on their own over time. But it is important to make sure that you have a good doctor on board that helps you monitor anything that may be concerning during this time.