What is Long Covid – and could you be affected?
Discover more about the condition...
There is emerging evidence a growing number of people who contract Covid-19 cannot shake off the effects of the virus months after initially falling ill.
As Long Covid is a newly emerging condition, some sufferers have found it hard to get a diagnosis and the help they need. But now there’s more research under way to help doctors understand the illness and find the best ways to treat it.
How many people get Long Covid?
The Office for National Statistics has estimated has estimated 2.0 million people living in private households in the UK were experiencing self-reported long COVID (symptoms continuing for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) as of 1st May 2022.
Long Covid is defined by the The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as:
Ongoing symptomatic COVID-19: signs and symptoms of COVID-19 from four to 12 weeks.
Post COVID-19 syndrome: signs and symptoms that develop during or after COVID-19 and continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of Long Covid?
We’re all individuals and that’s especially true when it comes to Long Covid, which has a wide range of symptoms. Covid-19 can affect many different parts of the body, including the lungs, heart and circulatory system, kidneys, liver and digestive system.
For some sufferers, Long Covid can involve mild symptoms that come and go, but others may find even everyday activities such as climbing the stairs or cooking dinner absolutely exhausting.
It can have a major impact on their lifestyles, health and mental wellbeing and they may be unable to return to work.
The most common symptoms of long COVID are:
Extreme tiredness (fatigue).
Shortness of breath.
Loss of smell.
However, there are lots of symptoms you can have after a COVID-19 infection, including:
Problems with your memory and concentration ("brain fog").
Chest pain or tightness.
Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
Pins and needles.
Depression and anxiety.
Feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite.
A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste.
Who is most likely to get Long Covid?
Research from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) says that as a proportion of the UK population, the prevalence of self-reported long COVID was greatest in people aged 35 to 49 years, females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, teaching and education or health care, and those with another health condition or disability that limits activity.
Research done in June 2021 examined data from half a million adults stated 1 in 20 reported as having long COVID at some point, this study showed that women, older people, people who smoke, are overweight or obese or who live in deprived areas have a higher risk of developing long COVID.
What are the causes of Long Covid?
This remains a mystery, there is lots of research into targeted therapies for long COVID, but we must understand why the symptoms of long COVID persists in those after the initial illness.
Professor David Price from the School of Medicine, Cardiff University explains "The predominant hypotheses are either that people with long COVID never fully clear the virus from their systems; or that the illness results from a dysfunctional immune response."
What should I do if I think I have Long Covid?
Please contact a GP if you're worried about symptoms 4 weeks or more after you've had COVID-19 or if you think you may have had COVID-19. Your Doctor may suggest some tests such as blood tests, checking your blood pressure, chest X-ray and measuring Oxygen levels. This will help to rule out other things that could be causing your symptoms.
What treatment is available?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms and the results of any tests. For example, if an X-ray shows lung damage, you may be referred to a chest clinic for specialist support. In some areas, you may be able to attend a special clinic dedicated to treating Long Covid – there are plans to open more of these clinics around the country.
Self-help for Long Covid
There’s a lot you can do to help yourself recover as quickly as possible:
Pace yourself – if you’re feeling exhausted, don’t take on too much and schedule rest times during the day. This will also help if you have ‘brain fog’ and concentration problems.
Avoid over-exertion. Doctors have noticed that patients who try to do too much exercise make less progress. However, try to do some gentle exercise such as a walk when you’re up to it.
Eat a healthy diet. Why not rustle up some of our simple and nutritious recipes.
Sleep well – if you're struggling to switch off at the end of the day, read our article on best and worst foods for sleep.
If Long Covid is making you depressed or anxious, our article on how to improve your mental health has lots of tips.
You can find more advice on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website. The NHS COVID recovery programme is an online resource to support you while you recover from the long-term effects of COVID -19.
How long will it take to recover?
The time it takes to recover from Long Covid varies between individuals, and it’s hard to put a timescale on it, but it is not uncommon for it to last up to 12 weeks. The good news is that evidence from the Covid Symptom Study suggests that most people with Long Covid are getting better over time.
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