About Long COVID
What is long COVID
While most people with COVID-19 will recover after a few weeks, others may have long-term symptoms or complications. Post-COVID conditions are health problems that people experience four or more weeks after having COVID-19. These issues can last for months or longer. Sometimes the long-term symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Post-COVID conditions are also called long-haul COVID, chronic COVID, post-acute COVID, or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC). Many people simply refer to these ongoing health problems as “long COVID.”
Some people with long COVID have mild to moderate symptoms that gradually get better after several months. Others may have more severe symptoms and face challenges returning to work, school, family life, exercise, and other activities that help them to thrive. A subset of people will have very severe symptoms that leave them newly disabled by long COVID. We do not yet know if these effects will be permanent.
As of July 2021, long COVID and post-COVID conditions can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the symptoms substantially limit one or more life activities. Learn more: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Guidance on “Long COVID” as a Disability Under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557 and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.
There is still a lot to learn about COVID-19 and long COVID. MDH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and researchers around the world are working to understand the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19, who is most at risk for developing long COVID, and how to prevent, diagnose, treat, and track post-COVID conditions.
Who can get long COVID
Anyone who has been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can develop long COVID, including children. Post-COVID conditions are more common in people who experienced severe illness or hospitalization from COVID-19, but long COVID can also happen after a mild COVID-19 infection. Long COVID may also be more common in people with certain chronic health conditions, but people without underlying conditions can also develop long COVID.
We are still learning how common long COVID is. Studies have shown that 5-30% or more of people who have COVID-19 could have symptoms for months or longer after their initial infection. The prevalence varies among populations.
Children and young adults may also be more susceptible to a very rare but serious post-COVID condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).
For more information about the range of post-COVID conditions, including those associated with hospitalization and intensive care, visit CDC: Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions.
How COVID-19 can cause long-term problems
We are still learning how the virus that causes COVID-19 can impact people, including ongoing symptoms or the development of new symptoms after the acute period of infection. Research is underway to better understand whether and how residual organ damage, remnants of the virus, an exaggerated immune response, and/or ongoing inflammation can result in or contribute to long COVID.
Since the virus that causes COVID-19 can impact many systems of the body in different ways, long COVID symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. The symptoms may be ongoing from the initial illness, or they may return after a short period of recovery. Some people begin to have new symptoms. Others will improve for a time but relapse after certain triggers.
People with long COVID may have one or many symptoms, such as different combinations of the following:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or remembering (sometimes called “brain fog”)
- Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort
- Trouble sleeping
- Fast, irregular, or pounding heartbeat (also known as heart palpitations)
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Dizziness or lightheadedness on standing
- Joint or muscle pain
- Pins-and-needles feeling
- Stomach pain
- Skin issues like rash or hair loss
- Mood changes, including depression or anxiety
- Changes in sense of smell or taste
- Changes in menstrual period cycles
- And other symptoms reported
COVID-19 might also trigger or worsen health issues such as diabetes, blood clotting (including stroke), heart disease or heart failure, kidney disease, and other chronic conditions.
It is important to note that health conditions other than long COVID can also cause these symptoms and complications. Talk to a health care provider if symptoms are not improving or interfere with daily life. Visit Long COVID Resources and Support for more information.
Diagnosis and management
There is no single test that can diagnose long COVID. Doctors may order tests to better understand symptoms or to rule out other possible causes. They may also ask about a patient’s history of COVID-19 infection and underlying medical conditions.
Currently there is no cure for long COVID, but health care providers may be able to help reduce or manage symptoms through rehabilitation services, medications, and coordinated care. Management may include specialists that focus on the heart, lungs, digestion, diet and nutrition, sleep, mental health, neurology, physical therapy, or other fields of medicine.
Some people with long COVID have symptoms of autoimmune disease, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), dysautonomia, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia, mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), or other health conditions. Health care providers may be able to apply similar treatments and therapies to help manage long COVID.
For many people, long COVID symptoms will gradually improve over time. For others, symptoms may progressively get worse and could become permanent. As we learn more about the underlying causes of long COVID, better tests and treatments may become available.
The best way to prevent long COVID is to avoid getting infected or reinfected with the virus that causes COVID-19. The more steps you take to protect yourself, the safer you will be.
Vaccination is the best way to reduce your chances of severe infection. There is growing evidence that vaccination may also reduce the risk of long-term symptoms and complications. Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters. Visit Find COVID-19 vaccine locations to locate a COVID-19 vaccine at a nearby clinic, hospital, pharmacy, or community site.
Because no single step on its own is perfect at preventing COVID-19, layering preventive measures is best. Visit Protect Yourself & Others: COVID-19 to learn more about preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Studies are also underway to examine if certain medications taken during the initial infection might reduce the chances of long-term symptoms.
Impact on communities
While we are still learning about who may be more likely to develop long COVID, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has not had an equal impact on all Minnesota communities. As a result, some communities such as Minnesotans of color, American Indians, people with disabilities, those who live in rural or low-income areas, people in the LGBTQ community, or those who are homeless or have unstable housing may also be more likely to experience long COVID. Learn more about systemic barriers to health at Health Equity and COVID-19.