What Are the Long-Term Effects of COVID-19?

July 29, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Laurie G. Jacobs, M.D. contributes to topics such as Internal Medicine.

For some who recover from COVID-19, symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle pain, confusion, headaches and even hallucinations are among the growing number of issues survivors face following the illness.

“Individuals recovering from COVID-19 may struggle with a number of respiratory, cardiac and kidney problems,” warns Laurie Jacobs, M.D., chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center. “They also have an increased risk of blood clots, which can potentially lead to a stroke or heart attack.”

While there’s still much to be learned from those who have recovered from COVID-19, here is a look at some of the most common long-term effects:

Heart Trouble

A recent study from the University of Frankford in Germany showed abnormal heart findings in more than 75% of people studied who had recently recovered from COVID-19. A considerable majority of patients in the study were found to have had inflammation in the heart and muscle lining.

This can be troubling as inflammation in the heart can lead to long-lasting cardiac disease and failure.

“There’s a lot more that needs to be studied, but it’s important to know that there’s the possibility out there that a COVID-19 infection could mean development of a serious heart condition,” says Dr. Jacobs.

Lung Problems

We know that COVID-19 attacks the lungs, causing inflammation. This may leave survivors with persistent shortness of breath.

Some people who recover from COVID-19 can experience a dry cough or pain when breathing after the illness. Those who had to be placed on a ventilator may have more severe symptoms.

“If you’ve had COVID-19 and you’re still having trouble breathing, talk to your doctor about a pulmonary evaluation for treatment and rehabilitation to help rebuild strength,” says Dr. Jacobs.

Brain and Neurological Issues

Research shows COVID-19 can affect the brain and central nervous system. Some people have reported symptoms like headaches, dizziness, trouble concentrating or recalling things and even hallucinations after recovering from COVID-19. Investigators indicate that symptoms are most common in patients who had severe forms of disease. Strokes are also an ongoing concern among patients who have recovered from COVID-19. Learn more about if COVID-19 can cause a stroke.

“As inflammation increases in the body, so does the chance of a stroke-causing blood clot, although we do not yet entirely understand why clotting is more common with COVID-19 infection than with other viral infections such as the flu,” explains Dr. Jacobs. “Inflammation is known to be a risk factor damaging the heart. Others recovering from COVID-19 have had heartbeat irregularities as well.”

When To See a Doctor

If you’ve had COVID-19 and are recovering, it’s important to connect with your doctor regularly to monitor for any troubling signs or symptoms.

If you’re in the New Jersey area, Hackensack Meridian Health has started the state’s first center dedicated to helping COVID-19 patients in their recovery. There you will:

  • Be evaluated by well-trained primary care physicians who have experience treating COVID-19 patients and in dealing with the long-term effects.
  • Have access to specialists in cardiology, lung disease, neurology, kidney disease, behavioral health and others who can evaluate and manage specific problems.
  • Participate and contribute to Hackensack Meridian Health’s COVID-19 research efforts, including the latest testing and treatments.

“From heart and lung complications to anxiety and other behavioral health side effects, our network of primary care physicians and specialists are available to help recovering COVID-19 patients navigate their health care journey,” says Dr. Jacobs.

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.