COVID-19: Possible serious long-term side-effects for patients

confusion and neurological problem

Last Updated October 9th, 2020

Life-long consequences of COVID-19

When the pandemic first hit the world, doctors and medical practitioners had very little resources for treating COVID-19 patients. Saving the lives of critical patients was one of the biggest challenges of the medical fraternity. Another major challenge was to control the transmission of the virus and the spread of the disease among the masses. Now that a few months have passed, doctors and scientists have realized that though patients are recovering fast, some of them especially the older people and patients with other underlying diseases are having certain long-term side effects. Some of the side-effects can be life-threatening and may cause serious damage to the lungs, brain, heart, and other long-term complications like shortness of breath, fatigue, etc. Scientists worldwide are of the view that this disease can affect our immune system and due to the unknown nature of the virus and the absence of vaccines or medications, many people may never recover fully from the disease.

Who are at increased risk of serious and long term side effects of COVID-19?

Most of the asymptomatic patients and people with mild to moderate symptoms recover fully from the disease with no lingering health problems. However, there are people who may develop long-term side effects of the disease.

  • Elderly people over the age of 65
  • Patients with underlying diseases or comorbidities like heart problems, lung diseases, kidney or liver problems, immunity disorders, diabetes, morbid obesity, sepsis, etc.
  • Patients under ventilation or in the ICU for a prolonged time
  • Patients with psychological problems due to prolonged sickness from the disease
  • Infected patients under critical care who had developed acute pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and were under ventilation in the ICU
  • Smokers with a history of smoking

Long-term Effects from COVID-19

Although, it has only been a few months since the onset of the pandemic and it is too early to know about the long-term effects of the disease, recent studies have shown that COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms and under acute care portrayed lingering side effects even after full recovery and discharge.

Heart damage due to COVID-19

Evidence has shown that after 6 to 24 weeks of recovery, these patients have returned to the hospital with serious health problems like lung damage, heart problems, difficulty in breathing, or extreme fatigue. Doctors are confused about whether it is due to prolonged stay under ventilator support, the previous history of diseases like stroke, heart or lung problems, kidney damages, or due to the complications of the virus itself. Many doctors believe that some of these symptoms may be due to psychological problems and some patients may seek medical advice due to the anxiety and fear involved during the recovery process of the disease. Patients may continue to experience symptoms of the disease even after full recovery such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Joint pains
  • Cough

Apart from these symptoms, doctors believe that patients may develop serious health problems in the long term. Here are some of the long-term effects of coronavirus disease:

Organ Damage

  • Heart problems – Echocardiograms of the heart of patients even after weeks of recovery have shown ventricular dysfunction, inflammation, blood clots, and muscle damage that may lead to heart problems, strokes, and other diseases
  • Lung damage – Some of the patients have suffered acute pneumonia that can damage the air sacs or alveoli in the lungs and cause long-standing breathing problems. Patients who were under ventilator support for a long time may develop severe symptoms. These survivors have returned with symptoms of dry cough and shortness of breath
  • Neurological problems – Research has shown that COVID patients may develop brain inflammation and other neurological problems. Some patients may develop ‘brain fog’, a situation where the inflammation in the brain may lead to memory loss and patients may have difficulty remembering things or even experience hallucinations, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of smell, etc. Acute infection may even cause hypertension due to high blood pressure and even heart arrhythmia, irregular heartbeats, and pulmonary embolism. Even young patients can have strokes that can lead to temporary paralysis. Brain damage may lead to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease in the long run
COVID-19 related brain fog

Blood Clots

The COVID-19 infection can cause blood clots causing a blockage in the blood vessels resulting in strokes and heart attacks. The clots can damage the kidneys, lungs, liver, legs, and affect the proper functioning of the blood vessels.

Depression and Anxiety

Patients who were hospitalized for the disease or had developed acute symptoms in the past may develop psychological problems or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Patients may develop these symptoms during their hospital stay or even after discharge from the hospital. The trauma from prolonged hospitalization, isolation from family members, fear and anxiety of surviving the crisis during the recovery process in the hospital may induce mental health problems in the patient. Some patients who were in the ICU, under ventilator support for breathing may also develop PTSD symptoms. They may feel signs and symptoms of respiratory distress or shortness of breath and may require medical care as well as psychological counseling. These symptoms can also result in depression and mood swings that may have a long-standing adverse effect on the patient.

Fatigue and Tiredness

Patients who have undergone treatment for COVID-19 have reported extreme fatigue and weakness. They may develop CFS or chronic fatigue syndrome whereby patients may feel extremely fatigued and are unable to do their normal activities at home or workplace. Some of the symptoms may include a decrease in mental activity, lack of concentration, and disinterest in daily activities. Patients may feel the weakness even after prolonged periods of rest.

Supportive care for long-term effects

Doctors and physicians around the world have addressed their concern regarding the treatment of COVID-19 patients and how even after successful treatment and recovery, some of them are reporting lingering issues and complications. Doctors believe that supportive care for surviving patients is important to help them cope with the side-effects of this disease.

Lung damage post COVID-19

Doctors and hospital staff must explain to their patients about post-COVID-19 care and help them understand the symptoms may persist even after recovery which could impair their quality of life. This will help them cope with the trauma and be more confident during the recovery process.

Medical practitioners must keep a log to assess the recovery process and rehabilitation needs of the patients. Patients should keep in touch with their physicians over the phone and report to them about their progress. When a patient visits the hospital for a checkup, it is important to undergo all the screening processes and imaging scans for assessment.

 

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