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Are You Prepared for Post-COVID Syndrome?

Over 30 million Americans caught COVID-19. How many will develop post-COVID syndrome?

Many people have discounted the long-term consequences of COVID-19. They point out that most people are asymptomatic or recover readily from the initial infection. The message we hear over and over is that more than 99% of COVID patients recover, so stop worrying! The problem with this thinking is that our healthcare system is not prepared for post-COVID syndrome! Millions of people are facing long-lasting complications from this virus with no clear solutions.

Don’t Worry – Be Happy…Really?

Here is Donald’s perspective:

“The vast majority of people who contract this are virtually unaffected, asymptomatic, and the actual death rate is 1/10 of what we thought it was, which wasn’t much to begin with.

“Yes, there is a high-risk category of age and comorbidity factors (diabetes, chronic heart failure, emphysema, etc) but for the general population it is hardly a worry. Less, apparently, than many of the influenza viruses we have survived over the past decades.

“It would also suggest that the more people who contract it the sooner the “herd immunity” kicks in. It will always be with us, but it will be nothing more than just another disease that is out there… waiting… like a spider….”

Over 573,000 people have died in the US from COVID-19 and more than 3 million people have died globally from this virus. India is in the middle of a total fiasco.

The world is not prepared for post-COVID syndrome. Tens of millions of people could be vulnerable to long-COVID.

VA Research on Post-COVID Syndrome:

New research involving over 73,000 individuals who get their health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that even after people recover, they are at high risk for complications (Nature, April 22, 2021). These were people who were not hospitalized with COVID-19.

Patients who recovered from COVID-19 at home were still at risk of serious health problems at least six months afterwards. They were more likely to experience problems of the nervous system, heart, digestive tract, muscles, joints and metabolism.

These long-haulers were also at increased risk of dying compared to 5 million patients who did not catch COVID-19. The lead author of the paper in Nature is head of Research and Education Service at Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System. He has noted that most of the deaths that occurred after apparent recovery from COVID were not attributed to the infection. He communicated to the Jerusalem Post (April 27, 2021) that: 

“Most deaths caused by long-term COVID-19 complications are not recorded as COVID-19 deaths, meaning the commonly used death toll is ‘only the tip of the iceberg.’”

The CDC Confirms that Post-COVID Syndrome Is a Problem:

A different study from the CDC found that more than 2/3 of people who were not hospitalized when they had COVID-19 needed follow-up outpatient care during the first six months after recovery (MMWR, April 30, 2021). The CDC is alerting clinicians and healthcare systems that many people, even those with mild or asymptomatic infections, are likely to need additional healthcare after COVID.

Here are the conclusions of the study:

“Among adult patients with COVID-19 and enrolled in an integrated health system in Georgia, who were not hospitalized for their acute illness, approximately two thirds had at least one outpatient medical encounter 28–180 days after diagnosis, and approximately two thirds of these persons received a new primary diagnosis at one or more visits. New diagnoses included cough, shortness of breath, chest or throat pain, and fatigue, which likely represent ongoing COVID-19 symptoms and are consistent with other reports of patient-reported symptoms months after SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

What Is It Like to Have Post-COVID Syndrome?

Here are just a few of the comments posted to our website:

Bryan is in the trenches and needs help!

“I am a home health occupational therapist in the Baltimore area. I have seen about 7 patients with this syndrome. None of them have improved or recovered. This is a serious problem for these patients, and there is little guidance for treatment. STASIS breathing techniques from Mt Sinai are the only treatment I’ve seen, and it does not improve mobility, from my experience. Help!!!”

Marie has first-hand experience with post-COVID syndrome:

“I had a very mild, almost asymptomatic COVID case around Christmas. I lost taste and smell which has returned partly, but I still can’t smell some things, and some foods taste funny. About once a week I have what I call a ‘fatigue’ day where I can hardly get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. From what I have read about other long-haulers, I consider myself blessed.”

Michelle says it’s like being a 30-year-smoker:

“I believe I got COVID very early on, never developing a fever, but my symptoms were mainly a very deep cough and GI distress. Testing was non-existent/unreliable at that time, so I’ve never been given an official diagnosis, but it’s the lingering long COVID symptoms that lead me to believe I am correct.

“I used to be able to do an hour on the elliptical machine, but now I’m lucky to do 10 minutes without gasping for breath as though I’d been a 30-year smoker. The deep cough/tight chest reappeared every 3 weeks, but at least that’s gone away. Other issues include muscle and joint pain plus brain fog.”

Sally has heart problems after COVID-19:

“I had COVID in late August of 2020. A month later I ended up in the ER with atrial fibrillation and angina, having been sent from an urgent care by ambulance with sirens going. I was there three days, and they got it under control.

“I also developed asthma from the COVID, which I never had before. To this day I still experience breathing issues. I am on a steroid inhaler but still feel like I can’t get a deep breath very often. Even though I am taking a deep breath it does not feel like I’m taking a deep breath. My pulmonologist said he can’t tell me how many times a day he hears that from post-COVID patients, and he wished he had an answer for me. They don’t know why.

“I also have bouts with Atrial fibrillation since that night in September. I am on metoprolol, though I am still getting Afib periodically, and my present heart doctor wanted to double the Metoprolol, which I’m not comfortable doing. I’m seeing a new heart doctor next month.

“I also get fatigued very easily. I have horrible brain fog. I can’t remember what happened 5 minutes ago. The quality of my life has drastically changed, and I wonder if I’ll ever be the same again.”

Ann is also short of breath:

“I got Covid in March 2020, although I thought it was just a mild case of the flu. Since then I’ve had severe shortness of breath, muscle/joint aches and pains, taste and smell comes and goes (mostly goes), dry cough and fatigue that comes on so suddenly I have to sit down immediately. I’ve had every test known to man, but nothing shows up. My biggest issue is the shortness of breath.”

Kate is in the same boat:

“I had COVID in December 2020, a fairly mild case. In the three months since then, I have had difficulty catching my breath with mild exercise and severe joint pain, in my knees especially. I was walking several miles multiple times a week, with no trouble before I had COVID.”

Sven offers this key point:

“The hardest part of having long COVID is not finding a doctor that will say the words “long COVID,” I wonder if they don’t want to admit they don’t know. Very depressing.”

Are we Prepared for Post-COVID Syndrome?

I know that I am starting to sound like a cracked record with this question. It’s important, though. I fear that our health care system: 1) has no idea how many people will develop post-COVID syndrome over the coming months and years; 2) has no idea how to treat this condition and 3) no one knows who will pay for whatever treatments the health professionals come up with.

I fear that the “fourth wave” of COVID may not show up for months to come. Instead of a new variant infection, it could turn out to be the remnants of the original virus.

Do you want to learn more about long-COVID? Here is a podcast we did with a physician who herself is suffering from post-COVID syndrome and a physician who is treating such patients:

Show 1254: Combating the Long-Term Effects of Post-COVID Syndrome
Some people suffer devastating consequences after an acute coronavirus infection. Fatigue and dizziness from POTS may be part of this post-COVID syndrome.

Please share your own thoughts about post-COVID syndrome in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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  • Al-Aly, Z., et al, "High-dimensional characterization of post-acute sequalae of COVID-19," Nature, April 22, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03553-9
  • Hernandez-Romieu, A.C., "Health Care Utilization and Clinical Characteristics of Nonhospitalized Adults in an Integrated Health Care System 28–180 Days After COVID-19 Diagnosis — Georgia, May 2020–March 2021," MMWR, April 30, 2021, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7017e3
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