Post-COVID syndrome, also known as long-haul COVID-19 or long COVID-19, involves a wide range of health problems that occur for many weeks, months and years after recovering from COVID-19. And most experts agree that long-haul COVID-19 is not rare and occurs in at least 10%–20% of people who have had COVID-19.
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“This is a condition that is not rare and something that all of us in medicine have been seeing very frequently,” says Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, a Mayo Clinic occupational medicine specialist. “We are now more than two years out working with this condition. And we have seen individuals who have had symptoms for a year and a half or two years after their infection. So it does really seem appropriate — this name ‘long-haul,’ unfortunately.”
The two most common symptoms are shortness of breath and fatigue.
“The fatigue that we see is not a normal fatigue. It is quite profound. Patients will often say things like that they will take out their trash or go for a walk with their dog for about a block and then have to take a nap for three to four hours or even be tired for days afterward,” says Dr. Vanichkachorn.
Other symptoms can include dizziness, headache, a rapid heart rate and “brain fog,” or the inability to think clearly. And cases of long-haul COVID-19 aren’t necessarily associated with having severe COVID-19 illness.
“In fact, 75% of the patients we have seen here at Mayo, they only had a mild illness. They didn’t have to go to the hospital, the ER (emergency room) or even their primary care provider,” says Dr. Vanichkachorn.
He says many cases of long-haul COVID-19 actually occur in younger people, and it happens to women more than men.
Researchers are making headway in better understanding long-haul COVID-19 and treating it with rehabilitation services, including occupational and physical therapy.
“Right now, we are seeing good improvements. Everybody is getting better over time. Some people do have lingering symptoms, but they are in a much better place and able to control their symptoms,” says Dr. Vanichkachorn.
He says getting treatment earlier is better. If you’re still having symptoms two or three weeks after recovering from COVID-19, contact your health care provider.