What are the long-term side effects of COVID-19?

Most people who have COVID-19 expect their symptoms to disappear after a few weeks, but some continue to experience effects months after recovery.

Dr. Fidaa Shaib, a pulmonary expert at Baylor College of Medicine, says people who suffer from persistent symptoms after recovering from the acute illness, also known as “long-haulers,” are often healthy prior to getting infected with COVID-19. This can occur in up to 10% of those infected with the virus.

“The acute illness when uncomplicated will normally last about two to three weeks,” Shaib said. “Symptoms persisting beyond a month is where we are seeing more of a chronic or long-lasting effect.”

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Common long-term COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A lingering cough
  • Chest pain and heart palpitations
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Fatigue with limited ability to exercise or even perform activities of daily living
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Sleep disturbances with insomnia and sleepiness during the daytime
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and indigestion.
  • Depressed mood and anxiety

While some long-haul symptoms of COVID-19 appear harmless, Shaib says ones that affect the lungs, heart and brain are more concerning and should be monitored by a physician:

  • Persistent respiratory symptoms related to lung injury or pneumonia from the virus, like chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Cardiovascular symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue or fast heartbeat
  • Symptoms that affect the brain are mostly related to memory loss and inability to focus, but signs of weakness, seizures, anxiety and depression could also be a long-term side effect.
Prevention and treatment

Because long-term effects of COVID-19 vary from person to person, it is difficult to determine when they will end. Shaib says the best approach is to be evaluated by your physician or a specialized post-COVID clinic – especially if you have persistent symptoms that are affecting your quality of life. It is also important to seek help if symptoms of anxiety, fear and depressed mood develop.

“It is advisable to get an evaluation so that we can assess the impact of the illness on your health and evaluate different organs that could have been affected,” she said. “Some patients are experiencing hard-to-explain symptoms, and are therefore anxious and frightened; those are the patients I want to encourage to seek help and learn more about this illness.

Shaib also recommends embracing a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep, when recovering from a viral illness. While it takes time, slowly reintroducing physical activity is another way to help your body recover.

“I want this to be a message of hope that this could happen to you, but there are things we can do to help as we continue to learn more about this illness,” she said. “I think the message for people is to keep going – sleep well, eat healthy and monitor your health so that you can get stronger again.”

Dr. Shaib is a professor of medicine in the section of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Baylor.

-By Kaylee Dusang

14 thoughts on “What are the long-term side effects of COVID-19?

  • March 28, 2021 at 11:08 pm
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    I hear some have had hair loss after having the Virus. My daughter got her first shot, a week after her hair was falling out. she took the second shot (Moderna) but her side of her head has a bald spot now. What can be done about it?

    Reply
  • April 12, 2021 at 3:57 pm
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    This lists some of the symptoms I have been having since January, and have been very upset by them. I was glad to read this article to know I am not “crazy” and my experiences are real. Wish I had the option to print this.

    Reply
  • April 14, 2021 at 3:24 pm
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    I am URGENTLY looking for a doctor that is looking into long civil, I need help, PLEASE

    Reply
  • June 21, 2021 at 4:48 pm
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    Hello my name Pamela Cooper—a Covid long hauler. I am wondering if there are any clinics in Houston area
    Please advise if you can
    Cell phone 832-579-4717

    Reply
  • July 20, 2021 at 5:56 am
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    I really appreciate the information, it is very painful. I am on recovery from covid, this is 19th day but I still have chest pains, I did chest x-rays and they couldn’t see anything, but I am in constant pain. Will I ever recover from this?

    Reply
  • August 25, 2021 at 9:21 pm
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    i had covid a couple of weeks ago, am feeling pretty good, lingering cough. Today the inside of my mouth is really sore, like when you burn the roof of your mouth when eating pizza, but all of my mouth. Could this be a side effect ?

    Reply
  • October 16, 2021 at 12:36 pm
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    Just got out of hospital 2 days ago, feel ing weird, stomach upset and nausea.. Having to take acid reducer to be able to tolerate any food, also have back and side ache.. One using hot pad to relieve soreness, this helps but I’m only able to eat small amount of food and hoping I’ll be better soon..

    Reply
  • November 7, 2021 at 10:56 am
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    My mother is a survivor of this covid 19.. She even experienced a critical stage.. But as time goes by on her recovery time we noticed that she has an anxiety that leads her mood bad. Please help me on how to help her when her anxiety attack.. Thank you

    Reply
    • November 8, 2021 at 6:22 pm
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      Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for reading. You can learn more about the Post COVID Care Clinic at Baylor on our website.

      Best,

      -Nicole

      Reply

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