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How Long Do People Feel Bad After COVID-19?

Months after they expected to be recovered, some people still feel bad after COVID-19. They report fatigue, headache or other symptoms.
How Long Do People Feel Bad After COVID-19?
Tired woman lying in bed can’t sleep late at night with insomnia. Asian girl with funny face sick or sad depressed sleeping at home.

When COVID-19 first appeared, doctors knew only that some patients survived and some died. Now they recognize that many infected individuals may have very mild symptoms. A majority of them may recover relatively quickly. However, some people who survive a bout experience long-lasting consequences and feel really bad after COVID-19 (JAMA, online Oct. 5, 2020).

Long-Haulers Feel Bad After COVID-19:

These so-called long-haulers report symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, trouble breathing and joint pain that last many weeks. Sometimes they are still suffering for months after their initial positive coronavirus test. Although older people are more likely to have difficulty snapping back after an infection, a significant proportion of younger people also report symptoms that linger. 

Even people who were not sick enough to be hospitalized may experience some of these long-term health consequences. Some survivors, including previously healthy young athletes, have evidence of damage to the heart muscle. In one study of 55 patients three months after hospital discharge, 70% had imaging abnormalities suggestive of lung fibrosis.

Neurological and Psychological Reactions to COVID-19:

There are also quite a few people who suffer mood swings and brain fog months after the initial illness. In addition, long-haulers may be vulnerable to isolation, loneliness, depression and anxiety. After all, no one expects them to continue to suffer. On the other hand, British researchers report that approximately 10% of patients feel bad after COVID-19 (JAMA, online Sept. 23, 2020). 

No one yet knows how long these symptoms may persist. However, with millions of people recovering from COVID-19, the world needs thoughtful comprehensive studies that can guide programs of care.

Learn More:

You may wish to listen to our interview with social epidemiologist Dr. Margot Gage Witvliet, who describes what it is like to feel bad after COVID-19 six months later. We also discuss long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms with Dr. Michael Saag. Both interviews are included in our Show 1230, scheduled for radio broadcast on Oct. 10, 2020.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • del Rio C et al, "Long-term health consequences of COVID-19." JAMA, Oct. 5, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19719
  • Rubin R, "As their numbers grow, COVID-19 “Long Haulers” stump experts." JAMA, online Sept. 23, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.17709
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