What We Know About Long COVID So Far

While some who are infected with COVID-19 recover in a matter of weeks, others have lingering symptoms that persist or even return months later. What has been named ‘long COVID’ is affecting millions of Americans. New data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that 80% of the nearly 24 million adults in the U.S. who have long COVID are struggling to carry out daily activities.

Definition from the World Health Organization (WHO):

{Long COVID} occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.

Impact in Arizona

We don’t know exactly how many Arizonans are dealing with long COVID, but the most recent survey completed by the CDC estimates that about 17% of all Arizona adults have experienced long COVID.

“Long COVID is not a condition that is reportable to governmental public health authorities, so we don’t have specific data on how many Arizonans are affected by this condition,” Dr. Cara Christ, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s Chief Medical Officer said. “The CDC estimates that about one in five adults has a health condition that might be related to a previous COVID-19 infection.”

Symptoms

Long COVID is not classified as a single health condition. It can be associated with a wide range of health conditions that can last weeks to months, or even longer. Symptoms can disappear and then reappear later. Sometimes, these are called post-COVID conditions rather than long COVID. While symptoms vary, these are the most commonly reported by people with long COVID and they fall into several categories:

  • General: Symptoms include tiredness that interferes with daily activities, symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort, and fever.
  • Respiratory or heart: Symptoms include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a pounding heart.
  • Neurological: Symptoms may include difficulty concentrating, headache, problems sleeping, lightheadedness, pins and needles feelings, changes in taste or smell, and depression or anxiety.
  • Digestive: Symptoms are diarrhea and stomach pain.
  • Other commonly reported symptoms: Joint or muscle pain, rash, and changes in menstrual cycles.

QUICK QUESTIONS

How do you know if you have long COVID?

The short answer is that there is no clear-cut way to diagnose long COVID:

  • There are currently no laboratory tests to confirm a long COVID diagnosis.
  • Consult with your healthcare provider who may use lab tests to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
  • A healthcare provider may diagnose long COVID based on one or more health examinations, test results that rule out other conditions, and your health history.

Is there a universal treatment plan for long COVID?

“There is no cure or one-size-fits-all treatment plan for this condition because long COVID does not have a single set of symptoms, and the specific causes of long COVID are not yet well understood,” Dr. Christ said. “After a long COVID diagnosis, your provider will work with you to identify strategies to manage your symptoms and quality of life.”

Who is most at risk?

“Research is ongoing to better understand who is most at risk of long COVID,” Dr. Christ continued. “At this time, it is thought that people more at risk for developing long COVID include those who experienced severe COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization, people with underlying health conditions before their COVID-19 infections, people who were unvaccinated, and people who experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) after a COVID-19 infection.”

How can you best protect yourself against long COVID?

“The best way to prevent long COVID is to avoid becoming infected with COVID-19 at all,” Dr. Christ stated. “This includes taking precautions like getting vaccinated and staying up to date on boosters, wearing a mask and avoiding large groups when COVID-19 activity is high, and avoiding interaction with people who have COVID-19 symptoms. Some studies have found that people who are vaccinated and then get sick with COVID are less likely to experience long COVID than those who are unvaccinated.”

LINGERING QUESTIONS

There are still so many questions surrounding long COVID. The good news is that there’s a tremendous amount of research being done to help us better understand these conditions. If you are experiencing long COVID, there are even ways for you to participate in some of this research if you are interested. The CDC routinely updates its website with additional information about long COVID.

It’s important to emphasize that you are not alone. While the research to better understand, manage, and treat long COVID is underway, there are groups you can join for support. Long COVID Alliance, Survivor Corps, Long COVID SOS, and Long COVID Kids are good resources to connect with others suffering from long COVID.

Disclaimer

This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.