published by Wangaratta Chronicle
with Ravindra Abeyawardana (MBBS, FRACGP), South Wangaratta and Docker Street General Medical Centres
LONG COVID is an emerging condition and there is a lot of study going on about it at the moment in many countries including the UK, Australia and USA.
There is a lot we don’t know yet about how it works and affects people in the long term, however here are some important facts that have emerged so far.
What is long COVID?
It is a term to describe the effects of Covid-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness. If a patient experiences symptoms of Covid-19, and other symptoms that cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis, 12 weeks or more after infection, that patient may have long COVID or ‘post-COVID syndrome’.
Who is at high risk?
- Patients who have experienced severe illness during their acute COVID-19 illness, including requiring intensive care
- Having pre-existing comorbidities eg; respiratory dis- ease including asthma, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, chronic cardiovascular disease, post organ transplantation or active cancer
- Patients over the age of 60 years; and
What are the symptoms of long COVID?
Symptoms may be new following initial recovery from the acute COVID-19 episode, or persistent from the initial illness. Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time.
Most commonly reported symptoms are: fatigue including ‘brain fog’, shortness of breath, loss of smell and muscle ache. Other symptoms may include heart palpitations including POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), chest pain or tightness, dizziness, blurred vision, anxiety, depression or an inability to feel pleasure and enjoy things, hallucinations, amnesia, difficulty in sleeping, changes of skin and hair including hair loss, erectile dysfunction, persistent cough and bowel incontinence.
If you have any of the above symptoms after a COVID-19 infection, it’s advisable to speak to your regular GP.
When should you seek urgent medical help?
If you have severe, new onset or worsening shortness of breath or sudden onset, unexplained chest pain, palpitations. If you have any of the above symptoms you need to at- tend the emergency department or call the ambulance immediately.
Is there a test for long COVID?
Unfortunately there isn’t any test to diagnose long COVID. It’s a condition that isn’t fully understood yet. Your GP will organise tests such as blood tests, ECG, echocardiogram, chest x-ray, lung function test and blood pressure and heart rate check, to exclude other conditions which cause similar symptoms.
How do you treat long COVID?
Unfortunately, there is no single standard treatment. Your doctor will have a holistic, person centred approach in treat- ing long COVID. This includes:
- Keeping a diary of your symptoms – to find things that flare it up and avoid them;
- Pacing yourself. Spread out work and activities where possible and rest before you become exhausted. Get as much possible sleep as you need;
- Try to gradually increase the amount of exercise and activity by setting small goals and working your way up. Allied Health support can be valuable;
- Gradually return to work considering the demands of the individual job;
- Eat healthy (a Mediterranean diet helps brain health) and stick to safe drinking limits (no more than 10 standard drinks per week) or don’t drink at all;
- If your symptoms are prolonged and have a big impact on you, your GP can refer you to a specialist rehabilitation service.
Does getting vaccinated reduce the risk of long COVID?
Yes. There are studies and evidence that show being fully vaccinated reduces the risk of developing long COVID.