Debiltating fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog. These, and many more, are all symptoms of long COVID. It’s an illness that, since the start of the pandemic 4 years ago, has affected 1 in 9 Canadians, or approximately 3.5 million people.
Out of this group, 2.1 million Canadians continue to suffer from long COVID meaning 1.4 million have recovered from the lengthy illness.
Long COVID Symptoms
Long COVID is identified through signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop 3 months and more after an acute COVID infection.
It presents with over a hundred potential symptoms and can affect every organ system in the human body. This is due to the ACE 2 receptor which serves as a “master key” for entry of the virus into many important areas of the body, which can explain the wide variety of symptoms.
The condition can last for weeks, months or years and can result in long-term disability.
Common symptoms can include but are not limited to fatigue that interferes with daily life, and fever or symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort.
Respiratory and heart symptoms are often due to lung cells that have been damaged by the virus. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, cough, chest pain or fast-beating or pounding heart.
Many sufferers of Long COVID report neurological symptoms such as brain fog, headache, sleep disturbances, lightheadedness, pins and needles, changes in smell or taste and depression or anxiety. Digestive symptoms can include diarrhea or stomach pain.
Other symptoms may include (but are not limited to) joint or muscle pain, rashes or changes in menstrual cycles.
Sufferers of long COVID are starting to get answers as the medical community works to figure out how to treat long COVID.
As of now, however, treatment remains very much focused on managing individual symptoms to improve quality of life, ease suffering and help people get back to their functional lives.
According to Stats Can, 66% of people with long-term symptoms who needed healthcare services reported not receiving adequate treatment, service, or support for any of their symptoms. If you believe you are suffering from long COVID, continue to seek help and advocate for yourself until you feel you are being heard.
It’s important to have a strong circle of care and a commitment to both your physical and mental health as this journey may be long. Your symptoms may come and go, so, if possible, have a family member or friend who can step in to help.
Of course, the best way to not get long COVID is to not get COVID at all. The risk of long COVID increases with each infection, with those who were infected before July 2021 reporting longer-term symptoms.
Getting vaccinated is your first line of defense. Twenty-five per cent of adults who weren’t vaccinated before contracting the illness reported long COVID, compared to over thirteen per cent of those with 2 vaccine doses and over 12 per cent of those with 3 vaccine doses.
The data is clear; get vaccinated, wear a mask in crowded places and make handwashing a regular occurrence to avoid infection or re-infection.