Last updated on February 23, 2023
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What is long COVID?
While most people recover from COVID-19 within four weeks, some people continue to feel sick for a longer period of time. Sometimes, people will recover from their initial COVID-19 infection and then start to feel sick again. CDC calls these lingering symptoms “post-COVID conditions.” They are also commonly known as “long COVID,” “long-haul COVID,” and “chronic COVID."
Many people may experience long COVID. Studies show that between 5 and 30 percent of COVID-19 survivors in the United States develop long COVID. A new report from Colorado’s Office of Saving People Money on Health Care found that as many as one in 10 Coloradans may experience long COVID.
Some people with long COVID get better after a few months. Others have serious, ongoing symptoms that make it difficult to go back to work, school, exercise, and other activities. Some people become disabled as a result of long COVID. Long COVID may be considered a legal disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Public health researchers are still learning more about long COVID and how long it affects people.
Symptoms of long COVID
Long COVID symptoms may include tiredness, headache, difficulty focusing or paying attention, trouble breathing, pain, and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. However, there are many different types of symptoms. They can include (but are not limited to):
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Tiredness or fatigue.
- Feeling especially tired or sick after exercise or exertion (also known as post-exertional malaise).
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”).
- Chest pain.
- Stomach pain.
- Fast-beating, skipping beats, or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations).
- Joint or muscle pain.
- Pins-and-needles feeling.
- Sleep problems.
- Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness).
- Mood changes (e.g., anxiety and/or depression).
- Changes in smell or taste.
- Changes in menstrual periods.
Symptoms can go away and come back over time. They may be different from the symptoms you felt when you first had COVID-19.
Who is at risk for long COVID?
Anyone who gets COVID-19 might get long COVID, even if they didn’t feel any symptoms during their initial infection. However, some people may be at greater risk for long COVID than others. The following people may be at higher risk:
- People who experienced more severe COVID-19 illness, especially those who were hospitalized or needed intensive care.
- People who never received a COVID-19 vaccine.
- People who had five or more different symptoms during their initial infection, even if those symptoms were mild.
- People who were infected with COVID-19 multiple times.
- People who had multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after their COVID-19 infection.
- People who had underlying health conditions prior to COVID-19.
- People with less access to health care due to health inequities.
What should I do if I have long COVID?
If you have symptoms of long COVID, talking with a health care provider can help you learn more about how to get treatment and manage your symptoms.
Preparing for your appointment can help make sure you get the care you need. CDC has a health care appointment checklist for long COVID patients that you can fill out before your appointment.
If you do not have a health care provider, consider using a telehealth or nurseline service.
Support and resources are available from organizations like the Long COVID Alliance, the COVID-19 Longhauler Advocacy Project, Survivor Corps, and Body Politic.
If you have any life-threatening symptoms, call 911 immediately.
Lowering your risk of long COVID
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19, including with an omicron booster, is the best way to lower your risk of long COVID. Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines makes it less likely that you will be infected or re-infected with COVID-19. Other precautions, like washing your hands, wearing a mask, and avoiding indoor crowds, can also help prevent COVID-19 infection.
If you get infected with COVID-19, getting medicine quickly may reduce your risk of developing long COVID later on.
Diabetes and post-COVID conditions
Some COVID-19 patients have been reported to develop type 1 or type 2 diabetes after they recover from the illness. On January 7, 2022, CDC posted a report as a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) early release. Report findings suggest that people aged 18 years or younger with COVID-19 were more likely to receive a new diabetes diagnosis more than 30 days after infection. However, researchers are still learning more about the link between COVID-19 and diabetes.
Studies and data
Scientists are still researching to better understand long COVID. To read more about what researchers have learned so far, consult the references section of the CDC’s interim guidance for health care providers.
- Colorado’s Office of Saving People Money on Health Care First Study Report on Long COVID and Post Viral Illnesses Caused by COVID-19
- CDC: Post COVID Conditions
- CDC: Caring for people with Post-COVID Conditions
- CDC: Evaluating and Caring for Patients with Post-COVID Conditions: Interim Guidance (for health care providers)
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Post COVID-19 conditions in children and adolescents
- Johns Hopkins Health: COVID ‘Long Haulers’: Long-Term Effects of COVID-19
- World Health Organization: Expanding our understanding of post-COVID-19 conditions
- Long COVID Kids
- Long COVID Alliance