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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Long COVID describes the ongoing symptoms people feel after infection with COVID-19 and refers to ongoing symptoms of COVID-19 four to 12 weeks after the initial infection started. Post COVID-19 syndrome refers to signs and symptoms that develop during or after COVID-19, continue for more than 12 weeks, and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.

Recovery from COVID-19 infection differs from person to person. For many, the common symptoms of COVID-19 will resolve within a few weeks. We don’t yet know why, but some people are left with symptoms a long time after initial symptoms of the infection have improved.

Severe illness with COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily make people more likely to get longstanding symptoms. We haven’t yet found any links between the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and the chance of getting longstanding symptoms, and there remains a lot that we still don’t know.

The symptoms

The symptoms of long COVID vary from person to person. They can affect all body systems, and there is not an absolute definition of what are or aren’t long COVID symptoms. If you are still not feeling right after a confirmed COVID-19 infection, and have bothersome ongoing symptoms, this could be long COVID.

Common symptoms people complain of include chest symptoms such as shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain, and tightness. Brain fog and lack of concentration is common, as well as generalised fatigue and sleeping changes. Other symptoms that have been seen commonly noted include skin changes and rashes, taste and smell changes, tummy upset and appetite changes, and generalised muscle and joint pains. This is not an exhaustive list and there will be many more specific symptoms people will feel.

When should I see my doctor?

There are some urgent medical problems associated with recent COVID-19 infection and so the threshold for speaking to your doctor should be relatively low. If you have severe symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, or chest tightness this should be discussed with your doctor urgently.

The first step will be to rule out any urgent problems that need dealing with. To do this your doctor may examine you, check your oxygen levels, order an X-ray or do some blood tests. Once this has been done, you may be reassured that there is nothing urgent and your symptoms are likely due to the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Can specialists help?

If you have ongoing symptoms for more than four weeks after your COVID-19 infection affecting your life and normal activities, you should discuss these with your doctor. There are specialist long COVID clinics now available in the UK being run from many hospitals. These services offer an integrated multidisciplinary service including physical, cognitive and psychological assessments, diagnostic tests, and management or appropriate onward referral to post COVID rehabilitation, treatment and other support and may be able to help get you back to your best self soon.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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