As the pandemic’s remnants fade, many people continue to grapple with the lingering effects of COVID-19 infections. For instance, approximately one in six state residents of North Carolina are experiencing the phenomenon known as “Long COVID,” based on data presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here’s a comprehensive look at the condition, its symptoms, potential causes, and available treatments.
Long COVID Symptoms
Diagnosing long COVID remains challenging, as there is no definitive test for the condition. Medical professionals, like Dr. Louise King, co-director of UNC Long COVID Recovery Clinic, admitted to The News & Observer that they often rely on excluding other potential causes for symptoms, such as anemia and thyroid disorders, to determine if they are truly related to the prior COVID infection. Fatigue is now the most common symptom, particularly with the emergence of newer Omicron variants. Other prevalent symptoms include brain fog, headaches, shortness of breath, and joint pain. To be classified as Long COVID, patients must experience these symptoms for at least a month, according to the CDC’s definition.
Causes of Long COVID
Despite ongoing research, experts have yet to pinpoint the exact reason why some individuals experience lingering symptoms long after recovering from their COVID infections. Within the scientific community, three major theories exist, as explained by Dr. King. First, viral particles from the initial infection may persist in the body even after the infection has resolved. Second, the COVID-19 infection might trigger long-lasting inflammation in the body. Lastly, the initial infection could prompt the immune system to attack the body itself. The prevailing belief suggests that a combination of these factors may contribute to Long COVID.
Long COVID Treatments Available
Since the root causes of Long COVID are still uncertain, treatments primarily focus on alleviating symptoms. Many patients benefit from learning strategies to manage their energy levels, often through physical therapy and breathing exercises.
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Christie Palagonia, program director at the WakeMed Pulmonary Rehab, has highlighted via The News & Observer the importance of symptom mitigation and schedule restructuring to improve patients’ quality of life. While there is no “magic pill,” certain medications targeting specific Long COVID symptoms like anxiety and depression may offer relief. Encouragingly, most individuals recover from Long COVID, with significant improvements often observed between the first and third month of the condition.
As research progresses, experts aim to gain a better understanding of Long COVID’s underlying mechanisms and develop more targeted treatments for affected individuals. Until then, awareness, early detection, and symptom management remain essential in supporting those grappling with the challenges of Long COVID.