Maybe you know someone in a similar situation: CNN anchor Chris Cuomo has tested negative for COVID-19, after having it, but still doesn’t feel like himself weeks and weeks later. “I’m not 100%,” he told Dr. Sanjay Gupta on air this week. “There is funky stuff in my bloodwork, that doctors say is what they see in people who have had COVID. So it freaks me out a little bit.” He’s not alone—here are other long-term after effects of the coronavirus.
I feel “a burning and tingling across my chest and my neck that came with a hot flash,” Kerri Noeth, who is on day 36, told WABC News. “It’s just been a wide range of lingering symptoms, particularly heart palpitations, and extreme discomfort in my chest and in my ribs.”
One symptom that has come up for a lot of people is losing the ability to taste and smell—normally at the beginning, but for some, it hasn’t returned. “I would love to get my sense of taste and smell back,” Susan Silverman, who was on day 38, told WABC News.
Silverman also had vertigo. “Vertigo is a sensation of feeling off balance,” reports WebMD. “If you have these dizzy spells, you might feel like you are spinning or that the world around you is spinning.”
Experts suspect that pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred, may occur in patients suffering from severe COVID-19 infections as a result of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to conclusively make the connection.
However, the condition is characterized by “declining lung function, increasing extent of fibrosis on CT, worsening symptoms and quality of life, and early mortality,” according to a paper published in The Lancet, and “arises, with varying degrees of frequency, in the context of a number of conditions including IPF, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, autoimmune disease, and drug-induced interstitial lung disease.”
Though doctors aren’t exactly sure why, some COVID patients are experiencing heart damage. One small study published March 27 in JAMA Cardiology found that over one-fifth of patients developed heart damage as a result of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. Health experts believe it may have to do reduced oxygen as well as inflammation of the heart muscle.
A separate review published in JAMA Cardiology by the University of Texas Health Science Center found that some survivors of the virus suffered lingering cardiac damage. Those who had existing cardiovascular problems experienced more damage, which increased their risk for heart attack and stroke.
“The hacking dry cough that is present in COVID is due to irritation of the lung tissue. As air enters the lungs and goes past the irritated tissue, it triggers the cough,” says Dr. Leann Poston. “It’s likely that your cough will still linger until your body completely heals any damaged tissue,” says Dr. Seema Sarin, Director of Lifestyle Medicine, EHE Health.
“This is a common outcome of having to be intubated and housed in an intensive care unit for a long period of time, which isn’t uncommon in COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization,” says Dr. Christine Traxler. “The main symptoms seen are similar to PTSD, with anxiety, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, and a higher risk for suicide and long-term mental and physical health complications coming out of the stress of this type of medical experience.”
“As you recover, you may notice that at rest, you can breathe fine,” says Dr. Poston. “But as the demand for oxygen increases (i.e., increased activity), you are short of breath.”
“I’ve been short of breath for two months, with a firey feeling in my lungs,” one patient tells Eat This, Not That! Health. “Even after testing negative for the virus, with my oxygen levels looking OK, the constricting feeling remains.”
“For those patients who were more seriously ill with COVID-19, the changes in lung and kidney function could lead to the presence of chemicals in the blood that are toxic to the brain,” says Dr. James Giordano, Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC. “The effects of these chemicals can cause changes in brain function, some of which may last for several weeks to months (if not longer in some cases).”
“There is evidence that, for young people in particular, the first evidence of a COVID-19 infection could be a stroke due to a blockage of a major artery supplying the brain,” Dr. Traxler says. “If not treated within a few hours after onset, the stroke symptoms are likely to persist and might include arm and leg weakness, facial droop, swallowing problems, balance issues, and speech deficits.”
Small blood clots in the brain as a result of the virus can go undetected, and can be responsible for a type of dementia known as vascular dementia, which occurs over time. “We know that if someone has a stroke, it approximately doubles their risk of getting dementia later in life,” Dr. Marion Buckwalter, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Stanford University, told CNN. “[Our research group] discovered that people who had a more vigorous immune response by day two after stroke were more likely to have cognitive decline in the first year after stroke.”
Another potential long-term health issue that can be caused by COVID induced blood clots is pulmonary embolism. “A majority of venous blood clot forms in legs that locally may present itself as swelling of foot and leg (usually on one side). The blood clots in the leg may move and travel to the lungs causing pulmonary embolism that can be a fatal condition,” explains Hamid Mojibian, MD, a Yale Medicine interventional radiologist specializing in image-guided cardiac procedures.
He explains that COVID patients have a higher risk of forming arterial blood clots that can be extremely dangerous. “There have been reports of clots in the aorta, renal arteries (causes renal infarction), legs (causing black foot and gangrene), and the most devastating of all in the brain blood vessels causing a stroke.”
Some patients have been experiencing kidney failure, with their blood clots even clogging dialysis machines. While kidney injuries aren’t necessarily a death sentence, they can be permanent and require someone to undergo dialysis for the remainder of their life.
Broadway star Nick Cordero was forced to have his leg amputated as a result of blood clots due to a severe COVID-19 infection. The actor suffered a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, which occurs when blood clots form in a limb.
A new study courtesy of Yale School of Public Health published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that there may be lasting mental health damage as a result of COVID-19—for at least up to 12 years post pandemic—similar or even greater to what we have seen in previous disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Traumatic experiences similar to Katrina victims include bereavement, lack of access to medical care and scarcity of medications, while additional hardships of the virus include “widespread death and sickness, as well as job loss and severe economic hardship for many.”
“The current pandemic has placed people under an enormous amount of stress leading to symptoms including anxiety, exhaustion, frustration, irritability, low energy, anhedonia (reduced capacity to experience pleasure), insomnia, nightmares, intrusive thoughts about COVID, and guilt,” John Krystal, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale Medicine and Yale School of Medicine, tells Eat This, Not That! Health.
He explains that some people will experience stress related to their role in the healthcare workplace, while others will experience stress predominantly related to the tensions between their work life and their home life, particularly in the context of childcare or eldercare issues. For most people these symptoms constitute a temporary stress state that will resolve by itself once life returns to normal. However, “For others, persisting symptoms may reflect feelings of burnout or signs of depression or posttraumatic stress disorder.”
Work with your medical care team to determine the best course of action for you. Ask for second opinions if you aren’t satisfied. Keep a diary, so they can understand what you’re feeling and when. And remember this inconvenient truth: Doctors are still learning about the virus. So although they may not be able to help you, informing them about any long-lasting symptoms will eventually help the experts better understand COVID-19.
As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.