Millions of people still suffer from fatigue, cognitive problems, and other long-lasting effects after being infected with coronavirus. Post-COVID conditions refer to a variety of health issues that can be experienced for up to four weeks following the initial infection with COVID-19. Post-COVID conditions can also be experienced by people who were asymptomatic within the first few days or weeks of being infected. These conditions can present different health problems over different periods of time.
Diagnosing Long Covid
Long Covid is a chronic illness that presents with a multitude of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are difficult to explain using standard lab tests. This is why doctors may dismiss patients or misdiagnose their symptoms as psychosomatic.
Research suggests that between 10 and 30 percent of coronavirus-infected people may experience long-term symptoms. Although it is not clear why certain people may develop Covid, four factors seem to increase the risk. These include high levels of viral DNA early in an infection, Epstein-Barr virus reactivation, presence of specific autoantibodies, and Type 2 diabetes.
The Immune System
Long Covid patients are more likely to suffer from impaired immune systems than post-Covid patients, who have fully recovered. Researchers believe that chronic immune dysfunction following a coronavirus infective episode may cause a series of symptoms throughout the body.
One possibility is that some coronavirus remnants are still present in the body. Researchers discovered that the virus can spread quickly after initial infection and that the viral genetic material can remain in tissues for several months.
Research has also shown that Covid can trigger an autoimmune reaction. Study after study revealed that patients were exposed to high levels of antibodies which mistakenly attacked their own tissues for many months following initial infection.
Another possibility is that the Covid-19 infection may have triggered chronic inflammation. This could happen by activating opportunistic viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus which is normally dormant in the body.
The Circulatory System
Long-term Covid patients often have difficulty with exercise after initial infection. They may experience relapse if they do. Initial research suggests that dysfunction in the circulatory systems might lead to a decrease in oxygen flow to the muscles and tissues. This could cause severe fatigue and limit aerobic capacity.
One study found that patients suffering from long-term Covid symptoms experienced unexpected reactions to riding a bicycle. Although they had normal hearts and lungs their muscles could only extract a small amount of oxygen from their blood vessels while pedaling, which markedly reduced their ability to exercise.
Chronic inflammation can cause damage to nerve fibers that control circulation. This is called small fiber neuropathy. The damaged fibers seen in skin biopsies are indicative of dysautonomia. This is a condition that affects automatic functions such as heart rate, breathing, and digestion. It is extremely common in long Covid patients.
Long-term Covid patients may have elevated levels of cytokines. This can cause damage to the mitochondria, the cells that provide energy and make them less able to use oxygen. The uptake of oxygen may be limited by inflamed blood vessels.
Low oxygen levels can contribute to severe fatigue, the most common symptom of long Covid. Some patients may be diagnosed with ME/CFS. This is also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. It often begins after a virus infection. Researchers found that ME/CFS sufferers also have low oxygen caused by circulatory problems. This puts great strain on the body’s metabolism, making simple activities feel like hard work.
Long Covid is often accompanied by shortness of breath. Common lung tests, including CT scans, chest X-rays, and functional tests, often return normal results.
Specialized M.R.I. A team of British researchers discovered preliminary evidence that lung damage had occurred in a small number of Covid patients. The patients’ lung function was examined in detail. Even though their structure appeared normal, they took up oxygen at a lower rate than healthy people.
Researchers cautioned that more patients are needed to verify the findings. The researchers suggested that micro clots could be present in the lung tissues, or there may be thickening in the blood-air barrier which regulates oxygen uptake in the lungs.
Living With Long Covid
Many hospitals offer post-covid programs or clinics for patients with long covid histories. Some doctors and programs can have long waits due to a large number of patients. Planning ahead can help you to explore multiple options.
Read and educate yourself on what post-covid conditions are and how they manifest. Understanding your condition can help manage it better. Seek out support from professionals as well as those close to you to cope with the mental stress while you recover.