Long haulers: Why some people experience long-term coronavirus symptoms
Updated Oct. 29, 2020
Novel coronavirus symptoms can last weeks or months for some people. 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. There seems to be no consistent reason for this to happen.
Researchers estimate about 10% of COVID-19 patients become long haulers, according to a recent article from The Journal of the American Medical Association and a study done by British scientists. That’s in line with what UC Davis Health is seeing.
This condition can effect 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.
Common COVID-19 symptoms of long haulers
The list of long hauler symptoms is long, wide and inconsistent. For some people, the lasting coronavirus symptoms are nothing like the original symptoms when they were first infected with COVID-19. The most common long hauler symptoms include:
- Ongoing, sometimes debilitating, fatigue
- Body aches
- Joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of taste and smell — even if this didn’t occur during the height of illness
- Difficulty sleeping
- 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.
Why do long haulers continue to experience long-term COVID-19 symptoms?
There's not a lot of information on long haulers, who only recently received attention from experts because it’s also so new. The vast majority of long haulers test negative for COVID-19. There’s nothing specific to test for lasting coronavirus symptoms.
One common theory about patients with long-term 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.
What is being done to help COVID-19 long haulers?
As with many other COVID-19 issues, it’s hard to identify why something is occurring when the disease was discovered less than a year ago. 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.