In most cases, COVID-19 patients gradually recover within a few weeks, but in certain instances the symptoms and complications are prolonged. Some Covid patients suffer for months. Physicians refer to this as 'long Covid syndrome'.
Ironically, 'long Covid syndrome' doesn't depend on the severity of the patient's illness. Anyone can have this syndrome, whether a patient suffering from severe complications or a patient with mild symptoms. But generally speaking, it is the elderly or those suffering from other diseases, who are more prone to 'long Covid syndrome.' Then again, even relatively younger, healthy and more or less fit persons too can suffer from 'long Covid syndrome.'
Those with 'long Covid syndrome' can suffer from certain symptoms for a few months even, despite testing negative for Covid. These symptoms can include general weakness, respiratory problems, cough, pain in the bones and joints, chest pains, muscle pains, headache, unrest, losing sense of smell and taste, loss of appetite, loss of memory, attention deficiency, insomnia, stomach ailments, hair fall, rashes or allergies.
Though Covid primarily attacks the lungs, the lungs are not its sole target. Other organs of the body can be affected too. The 'long Covid syndrome' symptoms depend much on which organs are affected.
Even after recovering from Covid, tests may show that the heart has been affected. various complications may appear such as rapid heartbeats, heart failure and heart attacks.
The air sacs within the lungs can be harmed in different degrees by Covid pneumonia. Even after recovery, there may be problems if an extensive area is affected. This can lead to lung fibrosis and the patients may suffer long from these symptoms.
There are instances of fibrosis showing up in the lungs in CT scans done a few months after recovering from Covid. The patients easily become breathless after minor exertion, lose weight, suffer from lack of oxygen, etc.
Covid can cause cerebral haemorrhage (stroke), convulsions, Guillain-Barre syndrome and other complications. This has been proved by research. Scientists feel that persons who suffered from coronavirus, will be more at risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in the future. Dementia will increase. Scientists have named certain post-Covid complications are 'brain fog'. Many will not revive to their 'old selves'.
Covid can increase the risk of artery blockage and blood clots. That is one of the main complications of Covid. That is why risky patients are administered blood thinners in hospitals. But even after recovering, this risk remains for long. That is why many recovered Covid patients are admitted to hospital with heart attacks or brain strokes. Blood clots can form in the lungs, kidney and the arteries in the legs.
Weakness and mental problems
It is not uncommon for the physical weakness, loss of taste and tiredness to linger on for long. This is true also in the case of those who had mild symptoms and were in isolation at home. However, these symptoms are more common among patients who had to be kept in high dependency units (HDU) and intensive care units (ICU).
Most of the patients who recover from Covid, suffer from various mental problems including depression, restiveness, post-traumatic stress syndrome, tendency to forget thing, becoming short tempered and irritable.
Many suffer from various stomach ailments for long. This includes bloated abdomen, stomach ache, constipation, loose motion, loss of appetite, loss of taste, etc. This is caused by Covid, food habits and excessive antibiotics.
Covid is a novel virus that is constantly confusing scientists. Scientists are learning every day. Diabetes can be exacerbated and blood pressure can fluctuate in post-Covid patients. The normal functioning of the body can be affected. Some are even developing thyroid, pancreas and such problems.
Prevention is the priority
As Covid-19 is a new disease and many are suffering from 'long Covid', are suffering long after recovery and are even dying, there is no saying what consequences this virus may cause. That is why prevention is the best weapon against it at present.
We must no assume that Covid is nothing serious and we can easily shrug it off. Before a Covid patient can realise it, complications may develop. Many suffer from 'happy hypoxemia' where oxygen shortage harms major organs of the body. Timely treatment can prevent this. It is important to undergo the necessary tests in time, consult a physician and keep in contact with the physician. It can be fatal to delay.
Regular follow-up after recovery is also essential, particularly for those who underwent treatment in hospitals. This can entail x-rays, CT scan, ECG and other tests.
The 'long Covid' symptoms may also be symptoms of a different disease. As a Covid patient's resistance lessens, they may develop other ailments after recovery such as mouth sores, pneumonia, urinary tract infection and so on.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) every Saturday and Tuesday has special outdoor facilities for post-Covid patients suffering from various complications.
Rashed Hassan Kanak is Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Green Life Medical College, Dhaka