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Long-COVID Comprehensive Profile

Some people infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can experience long-term effects from their infection, known as post-COVID conditions (PCC) or long COVID.

Post-COVID conditions are often referred to as long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), long-term effects of COVID, and chronic COVID.

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Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems, which can last weeks, months, or years.

Post-COVID conditions are found more often in people who have severe COVID-19 illness. Still, anyone who has been infected with the virus SARS CoV-2 can experience post-COVID conditions, even people who had a mild illness or no symptoms from COVID-19.

People who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 and become infected may also be at higher risk of developing post-COVID conditions compared to people who were vaccinated and had breakthrough infections.

There is no single laboratory test for post-COVID conditions. While most people with post-COVID conditions have evidence of infection or COVID-19 illness, in some cases, they may not have tested positive for the virus or known they were infected.

Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people experience after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Most people with COVID-19 get better within a few days to a few weeks after infection, so at least four weeks after the infection is the start of when post-COVID conditions could first be identified.

People who experience post-COVID conditions most commonly report:

General symptoms

  • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
  • Fever

Respiratory and heart symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

Neurological symptoms

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety

Digestive symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

Other symptoms

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Changes in menstrual cycles

Patients' symptoms may last more than four weeks or even months after infection. Sometimes, the symptoms may go away or come back. Post-COVID conditions do not affect all patients in the same way.

People with post-COVID conditions may develop or continue to have symptoms that are hard to explain and manage. Clinical evaluations and routine blood tests, chest X-rays, and electrocardiogram results may be expected. The symptoms are similar to those reported by people with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) and other poorly understood chronic illnesses that may occur after other infections. 

Some people, especially those who have severe COVID-19, experience multiorgan effects or autoimmune conditions with symptoms lasting weeks or months after COVID-19 illness. Multiorgan effects can involve many body systems, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain. As a result of these effects, people who have had COVID-19 may be more likely to develop new health conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, or neurological conditions.

Just as laboratory testing is critical for the accurate diagnosis of acute COVID illness, it plays a crucial role in objectively diagnosing, characterizing, and identifying the cause of long-COVID conditions, identifying the causes of continuing symptoms, and, most importantly, ruling out other serious diseases such as pulmonary embolism or myocarditis.

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