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November 24, 2020

A rise in post-COVID syndrome is concerning U.S. health experts

COVID-19 'long-haulers' experience extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog for months afterward

Illness COVID-19
A rise in post-COVID syndrome is concerning U.S. health experts Sofia Alejandra/Pexels

For some people, COVID-19 leaves lingering symptoms that prevent them from returning to their normal daily lives for months afterward.

About 20%-30% of people who have had symptomatic COVID-19 develop post-COVID syndrome, health experts say.

What is this exactly?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had this to say during a recent interview with The Washington Post's Robert Costa:

"Namely, they no longer have the virus in them, they can't infect anybody, but it takes them anywhere from weeks to months – and maybe even beyond – to feel perfectly normal," he said.

"They have a constellation of symptoms and signs that seem to be consistent when you talk to different people."

The most common symptoms of post-COVID syndrome include extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty regulating body temperature, sleep disturbances and problems concentrating on daily tasks.

These "long-haulers," as they are often dubbed, describe having no energy, aching constantly, and feeling like they are in a constant brain fog. The symptoms are debilitating enough to make even the most basic activities difficult to perform, according to Harvard Health.

There is currently an ongoing long-term study to better understand why certain people develop this syndrome and others do not. Previous research has shown that anywhere from 50%-80% of COVID-19 patients can have lingering symptoms up to three months after onset of the infection.

Dr. Fauci and other health experts theorize that people who are left with lingering symptoms without any detectable damage in the body may develop myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder that causes extreme fatigue that lasts for at least six months and doesn't improve with rest. People with this disorder often don't have any underlying medical conditions that could otherwise explain the symptoms.

Other possible theories for why COVID-19 symptoms cause more long-term symptoms include low level of inflammation in the brain, decreased blood flow to the brain, or an autoimmune condition where the body attacks itself.

Penn Medicine has a Post-COVID Assessment and Recovery Clinic to help assess and provide resources for patients recovering from COVID-19. The clinic is open to all patients post-COVID. Find out more information here.

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