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By Leah Parsons
Most of us by now have heard the term “long COVID” and may have wondered whether you or a family member with lingering symptoms has it. New research indicates that one in five adult COVID survivors in the United States experience symptoms up to a year after the infection that could be related to long COVID.
The researchers identified post-COVID health problems in the heart, lungs and kidneys. Other issues involved blood circulation, the musculoskeletal system and the endocrine system; gastrointestinal conditions, neurological problems and psychiatric symptoms were also identified in the study, according to the CDC.
What classifies as long COVID, who can get it, and how is it different than regular COVID? Jonathan Pinsky, MD, Medical Director of Infection Control, Edward Hospital, answers common questions about long COVID:
Who is most likely to experience long COVID? (Does it matter if I’m vaccinated?)
Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed medical records for nearly two million adults from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to November 2021. This included 353,000 patients who had COVID more than one month earlier to up to one year earlier compared to 1.6 million adults who were never diagnosed with the virus.
The percentages of adult COVID survivors under age 65 with at least one symptom that could be related to long COVID was 35.4%, or one in five, compared to 14.6% for those who were never infected. The percentage increases to 45.4% for adults over the age of 65, or one in four.
The CDC concluded that older adults are more likely to develop symptoms that could be attributed to long COVID. Further research is still needed to learn more about how vaccines impact the risk of post-acute COVID symptoms.
How do I know if I have long COVID?
Long COVID is defined by any of the 26 symptoms that either remain, recur or first appear after coronavirus infection. The most common of these symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog” or muscle pain.
Most people who become sick with COVID get better within a few days to a few weeks. Although anyone infected with COVID can experience long COVID, it cannot be identified until at least four weeks after the first infection.
Yet even after the four-week mark, long COVID can be difficult to identify: Long COVID symptoms may not affect everyone in the same way. Some people may have symptoms that resolve in just a few months, while others who were infected at the beginning of the pandemic still have symptoms two years later.
Secondly, it is hard to tell for an individual if any of the wide variety and range of post-COVID symptoms are due to another health condition or COVID.
What do I do if I think that I have long COVID?
There is no single test for long COVID. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of long COVID over a month after your initial infection, talk to your healthcare provider to determine next steps.