As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, patients seem to fall into three main categories: those who are asymptomatic, those with mild or moderate symptoms, and those who suffer serious symptoms resulting in hospitalization and/or death.
But what about another group of people, including those who are still suffering from the consequences of a COVID-19 infection weeks to months after the acute infection? They may have had a mild or moderate case of COVID-19, or even no initial symptoms at all, but are experiencing persistent, troubling, and often debilitating symptoms months after contracting the infection. Luckily, this fourth group of people, known as the COVID-19 “long-haulers” have started to gain more attention, and the medical community now has more information to help.
What is a COVID-19 “Long-hauler”?
The National Institutes of Health officially refer to long-term COVID-19 symptoms as PASC — post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2. A COVID-19 “long-hauler” is a person who experiences these long-term symptoms months after a COVID-19 diagnosis. Although numbers vary, some studies show that up to one-third of COVID-19 patients may suffer from long-term symptoms. These symptoms are sometimes so debilitating that they prevent the person from working or engaging in other everyday activities such as basic exercise.
Listening and Acknowledging
Treatment for long-term COVID-19 isn’t straightforward since the condition is relatively new and most long-haulers test negative for active, ongoing infection with COVID-19. In addition, there isn’t a way to test for lingering COVID-19 symptoms.
The road to recovery for many long-haulers can be long, complicated, and riddled with uncertainties. There are no easy answers for tough questions like how long symptoms will last or if there will be permanent damage.
Many long-haulers are frustrated that they can’t get answers for their oftentimes debilitating symptoms. Luckily, that’s changing. The medical community is discovering new ways to treat these symptoms every day.
Determining Who is at Risk of Becoming a Long-hauler
There are various theories about why some suffer from long-term COVID-19 symptoms. Although long-haulers test negative for COVID-19, there is a theory that the virus may actually still be lingering in their bodies at a small level that’s not detected by tests. Another theory is that even though the virus is no longer in their body, their immune system continues to act as though the virus is still present.
When looking at who is afflicted by long-term COVID-19 symptoms, there doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern. Long-haulers include both the young and old, male and female, otherwise healthy people, as well as those with preexisting conditions. What’s more is that many long-haulers had either a very mild case of COVID-19 or were asymptomatic so may have never even received an official COVID-19 diagnosis. This makes it even more difficult to predict or even treat long-haulers.
Some research shows that there may be a slight trend towards women, older individuals, those who are obese, or those with chronic conditions, but again, doctors are seeing patients from every demographic and more studies need to be done.
Another difficult part of helping long-haulers is that symptoms vary widely from person to person. The list of long-hauler symptoms is lengthy and may include: