What are post-COVID conditions (long COVID)?
COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is an illness caused by a virus. Many people get better within a few days or weeks after being infected with the virus. But others have post-COVID conditions. They may:
- Have symptoms that linger for weeks, months, or even years
- Seem to recover from COVID-19 but then see their symptoms return
- Develop new symptoms or new health conditions within a few months of having COVID-19
There are several other names for post-COVID conditions. It is often called long COVID. But it can also be called long-haul COVID, long-term effects of COVID, chronic COVID, post-acute COVID-19, and post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC).
Who is more likely to develop post-COVID conditions (long COVID)?
Anyone who had COVID-19, whether it was severe or mild, can have long-lasting symptoms. But you are at higher risk of post-COVID conditions if you:
- Had severe COVID-19 illness, especially if you were hospitalized or needed intensive care.
- Had underlying health conditions before you got COVID-19.
- Did not get a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Had multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after COVID-19. MIS is a rare but serious condition in which different body parts become inflamed.
What are the symptoms of post-COVID conditions (long COVID)?
Post-COVID conditions do not affect everyone the same way. They can cause various types and combinations of symptoms in different people. The symptoms may affect different parts of the body, for example:
- General symptoms, such as fatigue and fever
- Respiratory symptoms, such as trouble breathing and cough
- Heart symptoms, such as chest pain and palpitations
- Neurologic symptoms such as trouble thinking and concentrating (“brain fog”), headaches, and sleep problems
- Digestive symptoms such as diarrhea and stomach pain
Most people’s symptoms slowly improve over time. But for some people, the symptoms can last weeks, months, or longer. Sometimes the symptoms are severe enough to result in disability.
How are post-COVID conditions (long COVID) diagnosed?
There is no specific test for post-COVID conditions. People may have a wide variety of symptoms that could also be caused by other health problems. And sometimes tests such as blood and imaging tests may be normal. So it can be difficult for health care providers to diagnose post-COVID conditions.
To find out if you have post-COVID conditions, your provider:
- Will ask about your medical history. This includes asking if you have had a diagnosis of COVID-19, either based on a positive test, symptoms, or exposure.
- Will do a physical exam.
- May order blood and imaging tests.
What are the treatments for post-COVID conditions (long COVID)?
There is no specific treatment for post-COVID conditions yet. You and your provider can work together to create a personal care plan to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Can post-COVID conditions (long COVID) be prevented?
The best way to prevent post-COVID conditions is to avoid getting COVID-19. Staying up to date with vaccines (including boosters) against COVID-19 can help prevent COVID-19 infection and protect against severe illness.