More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects are all around.
While most people who’ve had COVID recover within weeks, others experience long-term effects known as post-COVID conditions (PCC) or long COVID.
“Roughly 80% of people with COVID-19 have a mild reaction and recover in about two weeks,” says Dr. Andrea Willis, public-health expert and chief medical officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “However, 10-30% of patients may experience long COVID after recovering — even if they weren’t very sick in the first place.”
7 questions about long COVID — answered
1. What is “long COVID”?
Dr. Willis: Some people who’ve been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 will experience long-term effects from their infection.
These effects have many different names, including:
- Post-COVID conditions (PCC)
- Long COVID
- Long-haul COVID
- Long-term effects of COVID
- Chronic COVID
- Post-acute COVID-19
- Post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC)
2. What are the symptoms of long COVID?
Dr. Willis: Long COVID has many different symptoms. The most common are:
- Shortness of breath
- “Brain fog”
- Neurological problems
- Hair loss
- Muscle aches
3. How long does long COVID last?
Dr. Willis: Studies vary, but some indicate that people may experience symptoms weeks, months or possibly even years after their COVID diagnosis.
Early long COVID studies show that 3 months after diagnosis:
- 50% of people report fatigue
- 25% have a cough, and
- 18% have a loss of smell or taste.
4. Are certain people more likely to experience long COVID?
Dr. Willis: Yes. People are more likely to experience PCC if they:
- Had severe cases of COVID and/or were hospitalized or needed intensive care
- Had underlying health conditions prior to getting COVID-19
- Did not get a COVID-19 vaccine
- Experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after COVID-19
That said, anyone who’s been infected can experience PCC — even those who had a mild illness or no symptoms.
Long COVID risk factors
Early studies also show that people are more likely to have symptoms 2-3 months after diagnosis if they have:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Epstein-Barr virus (a common childhood virus that’s dormant in most adults but can be reactivated)
- Auto-antibodies (antibodies that malfunction and attack a person’s own tissues)
5. Do you need a positive COVID diagnosis to experience long COVID?
Dr. Willis: No. While most people with PCC tested positive at some point, others may never have known they were infected.
Research indicates by July 2020, nearly 17 million people may have had COVID-19 and not known it
6. How is a person diagnosed with long COVID?
Dr. Willis: Long COVID can be difficult to identify since many symptoms are similar to those of other diseases and conditions. Plus, clinical evaluations — blood tests, chest X-rays, electrocardiograms — may remain normal, despite the fact that a person is having symptoms that are hard to explain and manage.
The bottom line is this: Even if you’re unsure if you have long COVID, any symptom that interferes with your daily life is worth a call to your provider. They can help you address your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
7. Is there anything you can do about long COVID?
Dr. Willis: The best way to prevent long COVID is to protect yourself and others from becoming infected. If you’re eligible, get vaccinated and stay up to date with vaccines against COVID-19 to help protect against severe illness.
More from Dr. Willis on WellTuned
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.