Types of long Covid, who it affects the most, and when to seek help

Do you find yourself getting tired or fatigued far quicker than usual during physical activity after recovering from Covid-19? You might have long Covid. — AFP

You may have heard of the term long Covid, which refers to the condition someone experiences after recovering from acute Covid-19, but still has lingering symptoms due to the infection.

Even though we are moving towards treating Covid-19 as endemic, it’s important to still take precautions not to get infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Getting it could mean that you may have to deal with new or returning health issues related to Covid-19, which will be very disruptive to your daily routine and possibly have long-term repercussions.

Many people who contract Covid-19 nowadays do not get seriously ill and do not need hospitalisation, as most have already completed their primary vaccinations and received their booster shots.

But even just getting a mild case of Covid-19 puts you at risk of developing long Covid.

Up to 30% of Covid-19 patients still experience some symptoms even after they have recovered from the acute infection.

The good news is that vaccinated patients are 50% less likely to develop long Covid than those who aren’t vaccinated.

But at the end of the day, we should still continue to be cautious not to get Covid-19 at all.

Types of long Covid

Long Covid can present as different combinations and types of health problems.

It also varies in duration from person to person.

One type of long Covid is when a person hasn’t completely recovered from Covid-19 and there is direct cell damage due to the virus, causing symptoms to linger.

A second type is when the symptoms are severe enough that the patient has to be hospitalised in the intensive care unit (ICU) for many weeks.

This can result in muscle weakness, brain dysfunction and psychosocial stress, among other problems the patient may develop.

After being released from the ICU, patients may experience post-ICU care syndrome, which shares similarities to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The third category are those cases in which symptoms appear after recovery.

So, what sort of symptoms should you be especially aware of when it comes to watching out for long Covid?

Basic systemic symptoms include fatigue, unusual tiredness after normal physical activity, insomnia, brain fog, depression and anxiety.

In addition, you may face appetite loss, diarrhoea, and even acute kidney injury, which may be difficult to recover from.

But as Covid-19 can affect many organs in the body, there have been patients who have also reported having skin rashes, hair loss, cardiovascular (heart) issues and abnormal blood-clotting.

Children and women

Long Covid afflicts children as well.

Initial data was lacking, but now there’s clear evidence that some children suffer from Covid-19 symptoms for a long time too, with their symptoms being similar to those in adults.

Students report fatigue and concentration difficulties, which naturally disrupts their learning and success in school.

Insomnia seems common as well.

Fortunately, the rate of these symptoms in children is still lower than in adults, and most of these symptoms tend to go away within a few months.

When it comes to women, recent studies have found that the number of women with long Covid is greater compared to men, especially among the middle-aged population.

This situation has been observed in Asia, Europe and the United States.

We need to focus more on this aspect of the disease to determine why females are more likely to experience this issue.

Clinical care for long Covid

Seeking care for long Covid symptoms is important.

This condition usually comes in a cluster of symptoms that may seem unrelated, so you may have difficulty identifying it as long Covid.

The variety of symptoms associated with long Covid can indicate the level of severity and chronicity.

The more severe the symptoms, the quicker you should seek treatment.

However, it’s important not to jump to conclusions that your symptoms are related to long Covid and consider that they could be related to something else entirely.

Make sure that it’s not a new infection or condition, and then address your symptoms based on the severity.

Multidisciplinary clinics or post-Covid clinics have been set up by many hospital systems to deal with this very problem.

The idea is that treating post-Covid syndrome should follow a holistic approach.

As symptoms are multifaceted and affect multiple organs, the approach to treatment needs to be comprehensive.

Follow the SOPs

The important thing for long Covid patients to remember is that they are not alone and to ask for help.

Over 100 million people may be suffering from long Covid, according to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The symptoms are similar, thus gathering the data, mobilising technology and forming study groups or support systems are critical steps to managing long Covid.

We can end the pandemic and decrease the incidence of long Covid by getting fully vaccinated, wearing a face mask in indoor and crowded outdoor settings, sanitising our hands, physically-distancing and following other protocols that are meant to help keep us safe from infection.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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