January 19, 2021
One of the lesser understood aspects of the coronavirus pandemic is why some people completely recover from an infection within a few weeks and others battle long-term health effects.
COVID-19 'long-haulers' — people whose symptoms linger three to six months after testing positive — face persistent physical and psychological effects from their bouts with the virus.
These complications, referred to as Post-COVID syndrome, include fatigue, fever, breathlessness, depression, myalgia, as well as damage to the heart, lungs and vascular system.
To better understand why this happens and to provide targeted care for these patients, Penn Medicine and other health care systems have opened post-COVID recovery clinics.
Penn's clinic first assesses patients to determine their individual health and rehabilitation needs, including screening of organ function. Then patients are referred to specialists for their specific health issues. Penn also is creating a registry to track important clinical characteristics of these patients to further research on this syndrome.
Similar clinics have opened elsewhere in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as more COVID-19 patients report lingering complications.
In Western Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Post-COVID Care Clinic also develops tailored treatment plans for this unique population. In North Jersey, the Hackensack Meridan Health COVID Recovery Center even offers a specialized COVID rehabilitation program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.
These clinics are critical, experts say, because there is still so much health experts don't understand about the possible long-term effects of COVID-19.
Dr. Wesley Self, a Vanderbilt University emergency physician, told ABC News that up to 30% of COVID-19 patients continue to struggle with significant health issues two to three weeks after testing positive. For about 10%, those symptoms are still present three to six months later. And many of these 'long-haulers' only had a mild COVID-19 infection.
Infectious disease experts say the most common symptoms of post-COVID syndrome are extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty regulating body temperature, sleep disturbances and problems concentrating on daily tasks.
Most of the patients experience a wide range of symptoms that can be debilitating enough to make even basic daily tasks difficult, according to Harvard Health.
Though there is no proven cure for these long-term COVID-19 symptoms, these recovery clinics aim to give patients a place to turn when their primary doctor can't help. Some of the clinics also offer exercise and diet plans as well as breathing and meditation exercises to provide a more holistic approach.
For more information about Penn's Post COVID-19 Assessment and Recovery Clinic, call (215) 893-2668.