Long COVID and Long haulers | Coronavirus | UC Davis Health

Long COVID: Some COVID-19 symptoms last for months

Updated Feb. 10, 2022

For some people, COVID-19 symptoms can last anywhere from four weeks to six months after testing positive for the virus. These patients, given the name "long haulers", have in theory recovered from the worst impacts of COVID-19 and have tested negative. However, they still have symptoms of what's being called "long COVID." There seems to be no consistent reason for this to happen.

This condition can affect anyone – old and young, otherwise healthy people and those battling other conditions. It has been seen in those who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and patients with very mild symptoms. Studies indicate that about 10% of people infected with COVID-19 will experience long-haul symptoms.

Get the latest on long COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Post-COVID-19 clinic in Sacramento helps long haulers (from KCRA 3 News)

What Is a COVID-Long Hauler? The People Whose COVID-19 Symptoms Won't Go Away (from Inside Edition)

The list of long COVID symptoms is long, wide and inconsistent. For some people, these lasting symptoms are nothing like the original COVID-19 symptoms when they were first infected with the virus. According to the CDC, the most common long COVID symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Fast-beating heart (heart palpitations)
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities
  • Pins-and-needles feeling
  • Diarrhea
  • Change in taste and smell
  • Fever
  • Dizziness or lightheaded when standing up
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Rash
  • Mood changes
  • Headache
  • Changes in menstrual period cycles
  • Brain fog

Brain fog is among the most confusing symptoms for long haulers. Patients report being unusually forgetful, confused or unable to concentrate even enough to watch TV. This can happen to people who were in an intensive care unit for a while, but it’s relatively rare. However, it is happening to a variety of patients, including those who weren’t hospitalized.

Some people have reported feeling better for days or even weeks then relapsing. For others, it’s a case of just not feeling like themselves.

Learn more about long COVID from the CDC

See what UC Davis Health is doing to help people who have loss of smell

Not a lot is known about people who have long COVID-19. The vast majority of long haulers test negative for the virus. There’s nothing specific to test for lasting coronavirus symptoms. It also doesn't appear to be different in those who have different variants, like omicron or delta.

One common theory about patients with long COVID-19 symptoms is that the virus possibly remains in their bodies in some small form. Another theory is their immune systems continue to overreact even though the infection has passed.

About 20-30% of children who get COVID-19 will have long COVID, which is a little less than half the rate that adults experience lasting symptoms. Vaccines are shown to prevent long COVID. Since they help prevent COVID-19 infection, they also protect about 90% against getting long COVID.

However, even children who have no COVID-19 symptoms but test positive for the virus can have long COVID. That's why it's important to prevent all cases, even those where children are asymptomatic. Pediatricians encourage parents to get their children vaccinated if they're eligible. The next best protection is to wear a mask.

Q&A with a UC Davis pediatric infectious disease expert: How likely is long COVID for kids and more

As with many other COVID-19 issues, it’s hard to identify why something is occurring when the disease was discovered relatively recently. Learning how to treat long haulers also requires time.

Also, because the disease is so new, much of the information about COVID-19 cases and care is anecdotal. However, that is changing.

UC Davis Health launched the region’s first Post-COVID-19 Clinic to provide streamlined, comprehensive specialty care for long haulers. We are one of only a handful of health systems in the U.S. to create a clinic that cares for these patients.

Learn more about UC Davis Health's Post-COVID-19 Clinic

The answer to this is not clear. Health care providers don't know how many of these symptoms are permanent, or if there is permanent damage being done. Some patients who have been seriously ill from COVID-19 develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can permanently scar their lungs. But it’s not clear if there is any scarring for long-haulers who have respiratory issues but not at the severe level of ARDS.

Other patients with long-term loss of smell and taste worry about permanent damage, too. Experts believe that the loss of smell and taste won't be permanent. For most people, there will likely be resolution, but there isn't a clear answer as to how long this will take.

Learn about the frightening uncertainty for long COVID-19 patients

If you are still experiencing long COVID symptoms and haven't been vaccinated, ask your physician before scheduling an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

If you wish to set up an appointment with our Post-COVID-19 Clinic, you can call our referral center at 1-800-4-UCDAVIS (1-800-482-3284). Select option #3. Please note that an in-person evaluation is required.

UC Davis Health's Post-COVID-19 Clinic requires an in-person visit in order to ensure a full medical evaluation and care. If you are unable to travel for care, we recommend seeking care at the academic medical center nearest you for their post-COVID-19 treatment options. These types of medical centers – like ours – are often the best at addressing complex health conditions.

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