You have had Covid, perhaps once, perhaps even twice. You thought you were done with it once you were double vaccinated. But no, the shadow of Covid falls long. Most of us continue to grapple with fatigue, secondary infections and depression even after recovery. Let’s understand how to tackle this yet-evolving phenomenon called Long Covid.
What is Long Covid?
As per the World Health Organisation’s definition, “post Covid-19 condition occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms and that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.” The condition is known by many other names, namely, long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC), long-term effects of COVID, and chronic COVID.
The condition can include a variety of health problems lasting weeks, months or even years. While people with a more severe Covid-19 infection are at a greater risk of developing Long Covid, it can even appear in people with a mild Covid-19 infection. In some other cases, people suffering from Long Covid may not even have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past. Of course, unvaccinated people are more vulnerable to the condition.
Who’s at Risk?
While patients with risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, respiratory problems, and smoking are more likely to develop a more severe Covid-19 illness should they contract the virus, experts have not yet been able to establish a clear link between these risk factors and a greater likelihood of long-term problems.
Absence of a Diagnostic Test
Recently some Yale researchers have found some correlation between long Covid and lower cortisol levels in the body, prompting optimism about the development of a test to diagnose it in the near future. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and helps regulate the body’s stress response. Lower than normal levels of the hormone may lead to fatigue, low blood pressure, poor appetite and weight loss. Knowledge of such specific chemicals or ‘biomarkers’ related to a disease and their associated levels raises the possibility of an easy diagnosis. However, currently, there is no test to definitively identify the condition in a patient.
Post COVID-19 condition affects people differently depending upon a number of factors such as pre-existing conditions, severity of COVID-19 infection so on and so forth. Some people have even reported their symptoms returning after a period of relief.
However, there are some commonly reported symptoms :
General issues- Fatigue/tiredness, ‘post-exertional malaise’ or symptoms that get worse after physical and mental effort, fever
Heart-related issues- heart palpitations, chest pain
Respiratory problems- shortness of breath/difficulty in breathing, cough
Neurological problems- ‘brain fog’ or inability to concentrate, dizziness, disturbed sleep, headache, pins and needles, change in smell and/or taste
Gastrointestinal issues- stomach pain, diarrhoea
Mental health problems/ psychological issues- anxiety, depression
Skin-related issues- rashes
Others- muscle pain, joint pain, changes in menstrual cycle
Managing Long Covid at Home
Everyone’s top priority must be to get vaccinated, maintain good hygiene and observe as many Covid-related protocols are possible. There are, however, some ways to manage long Covid symptoms since despite people’s best efforts, breakthrough infections continue to happen.
In case of shortness of breath due to lung damage sustained during Covid, the healthy portions of the lungs can be trained to compensate for the damaged parts through exercise. One should consult a doctor to chart out a plan for either home exercises or pulmonary rehabilitation, if needed.
Fatigue can be dealt with by maintaining a balanced daily regimen of a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, doing simple exercises or walking, and getting adequate amount of sleep.
However, in case, home remedies don’t alleviate your symptoms, it is advisable to see a health professional to ensure timely treatment and prevent worsening of the symptoms.