What Can Be Done About Long-Haul COVID-19 Issues?

Jonathan Vellinga, MD

The world has watched and waited for each new COVID-19 development over the past year. After a few months, reports of lingering symptoms from those who had contracted the disease months earlier began to emerge. Now, we have millions of cases and over a year’s worth of data to study. Trends have come to light: long-term effects are common, tricky to treat, and seem to have no real current cause - except for a previous COVID-19 diagnosis.

Even so, there is good news. These symptoms can be addressed through multi-disciplinary and holistic approaches, meaning that functional medicine may be the best option for some COVID-19 survivors.

What Can Be Done About Long-Haul COVID-19 Issues?

What have studies shown about long-term COVID-19 symptoms?

A number of studies have been done across the world. One University of Washington study found that approximately 30% of patients reported at least one persistent symptom 3-9 months after initially contracting COVID-19 (1). This study is particularly interesting because a high percentage of those who were studied had a mild form of the disease during the initial infection. Another study done in the UK found that only 65% percent of people felt that they had returned to their previous level of health three weeks after a positive test. The other 35% of COVID-19 patients felt that they recovered slowly and found holistic support, rest, and symptomatic treatment to be the best course of recovery. A smaller Irish study found that one symptom, persistent fatigue, lasted over 10 weeks after initial symptoms in over half the patients (3). A large study conducted in Wuhan, China looked at over 1,700 patients. The median age was 57, and the study included people who had mild to very severe forms of the disease. In this study, even after 186 days post-diagnosis, 63% of patients still felt at least one symptom was negatively affecting their health (4).

When comparing these studies, a common picture does emerge. Over time, we will learn more about the specific percentage risks and perhaps causes of what can cause long term-COVID-19 syndrome (sometimes shortened simply to “long COVID”). But in the meantime, we can see that people who have long COVID will need support and specific medical care.

Common Symptoms

Similar to the initial COVID-19 infection, there are quite a wide variety of symptoms that can occur in long Covid. Fatigue is the most commonly reported symptom across all of the studies mentioned above (1, 3, 4). However, other recurring symptoms may also be a sign of long COVID, such as (4, 5):

  • Shortness of breath

  • Anxiety or depression

  • Memory or concentration problems (also called “brain fog”)

  • Joint pain

  • Loss of smell or taste

  • Cough

  • Chest pain

  • Muscle pain

  • Headache

  • Diarrhea

  • Sleep problems

  • Rash or hair loss