You may have heard about people who got a COVID-19 infection and have symptoms for weeks or months after. This is now referred to as Long COVID. In this post we're going to dive into what Long COVID is, what the symptoms are and who it affects. Next month we'll talk about strategies that are helping people with Long COVID and where physical therapy fits in. Let's get started.
What is Long COVID?
Long COVID is generally defined as ongoing signs or symptoms lasting 12 weeks or more after a COVID-19 infection.
What is it like?
Like all things COVID-19, we don't fully understand Long COVID and new information is being discovered all the time. Long COVID tends to involve more than one system and currently has a list of over 200 possible symptoms. The most common are:
1. Fatigue 2. Post-exertional symptom exacerbation (PESE) 3. Problems with memory or concentration, often referred to as "brain fog"
Other common symptoms are shortness or breath, chest pain or tightness, insomnia, muscle or joint pain, depression/anxiety, and stomach problems like stomach aches, loss of appetite or diarrhea.
What's the fatigue like? Does rest help?
Long COVID fatigue is an extreme exhaustion that isn't relieved by rest or sleep. It's not fatigue after some physically demanding task. People experience exhaustion for no obvious reason.
The fatigue is so severe that it impacts the ability to complete daily tasks.
What about this PESE thing?
Post-exertional symptom exacerbation is a disabling and often delayed exhaustion disproportionate to the effort made. Patients are referring to this as a "crash". PESE is very common in people suffering from Long COVID. 75% of people who have Long COVID have PESE after 6 months. The activity that brings on the crash is something that the person could easily tolerate before their COVID-19 infection. Things like taking a shower, walking, attending a social activity, or even being in a high sensory environment with flashing lights and loud noises may all now trigger a crash.