Long Covid: from fatigue to nerve pain and breathlessness - the coronavirus symptoms that can last for months

People with ongoing symptoms of Covid-19 are showing signs of damage to multiple organs four months after infection

Almost one in seven people who test positive for Covid-19 still suffer symptoms for months later, developing a condition known as long Covid.

When the virus first emerged it was thought that coronavirus would simply cause short-term flu-like symptoms, but more than a year on from the initial outbreak, it is now apparent that for many people the symptoms can be much longer lasting.

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The most common symptom of long Covid is severe fatigue (Photo: Shutterstock)

F1 driver Lewis Hamilton recently revealed he is still dealing with the effects of long Covid after requiring medical attention in the wake of the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday (1 August). The seven-time world champion finished in third place but was visibly struggling after the 70-lap race, having to be assisted on to the podium and then appeared unable to summon the strength to hold his celebratory champagne bottle.

Hamilton, who contracted coronavirus in Dubai last December, was taken to see the Mercedes team doctor and a spokesperson for the Silver Arrows said the British driver was suffering with dizziness and fatigue.

Speaking post-race television, the 36-year-old explained: “I haven’t spoken to anyone particularly about long Covid, but I think it is lingering there. I was having real dizziness and everything got a bit blurry on the podium.

"I have been fighting with staying healthy following what happened at the end of last year, but still it’s a battle. I remember the effects of when I had Covid, and training has been different ever since then. The level of fatigue that you get is different and it’s a real challenge.

“I’m trying to keep training and preparing as best I can. Who knows what it was today? Maybe it was hydration, I don’t know, but it was definitely different.”

What is long Covid?

Long Covid is a term used to describe those who have recovered from a coronavirus infection but are still experiencing some lasting effects, or the usual symptoms have lasted far longer than normally expected.

Most people who have tested positive for coronavirus, and did not require treatment in intensive care, typically recover from the virus within three weeks.

However, an estimated 10 per cent of people remain unwell beyond this period, while a smaller proportion can experience symptoms for months, according to a study by King’s College.

The study found that some 250,000 people in the UK alone are thought to suffer symptoms for 30 days or more. In many cases, people who suffered with long-lasting effects of the virus were fit, active and healthy.

Scientists have not yet discovered why some people’s recovery from coronavirus is more prolonged, but a weak or absent antibody response, reinfection, inflammatory or other immune reactions, or mental factors, such as post-traumatic stress, could all be contributing factors, the British Medical Journal suggests.

Long-term respiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuropsychiatric sequelae have all been described as symptoms of other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, and these have parallels with some of the effects of long covid.

What are the long-term symptoms?

Typically, the most common symptoms of coronavirus include a cough, high temperature or fever, or loss of taste or smell, but these usually don’t last more than three weeks.

The long-term symptoms that some people experience often vary widely and encompass both physical and neurological effects, with these lasting into weeks and even months in some cases.

The most common symptom of long covid is severe fatigue, while other sufferers have reported breathlessness, a persistent cough, joint pain, muscle aches and mental health problems.

The vast spectrum of symptoms include:

- Severe fatigue

- Breathlessness

- Chest pain

- Headaches

- Muscle aches and weakness

- Joint pain

- Skin rashes

- Neurocognitive disorders, such as memory loss and lack of concentration

- Depression

- Anxiety

- Struggling to think clearly

- Digestive problems

- Loss of taste and smell

- Hearing and eyesight problems

- Persistent cough

- Hair loss

Many coronavirus sufferers have reported experiencing hair loss, with a study at the Indiana University School of Medicine identifying it as a potential long-term term symptom.

Dr Natalie Lambert, who conducted the study, said that nearly a third of 1,500 participants reported hair loss as a symptom, while others reported suffering with severe nerve pain, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and blurry vision.

However, this is the results of just one study and more are needed to identify a clear link between coronavirus and hair loss. The side effect is not currently listed as a symptom of Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the NHS.

Some experts have also said that suffering from coronavirus could trigger the stress hormone cortisol to be released, which can signal the hair follicles to shift from the growth phase into a transition phase and result in your hair falling out.

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Why is the virus causing long-term effects?

It is believed that while the virus may have been cleared from most of the body, it can continue to linger in some small pockets which can cause longer-lasting symptoms.

As the virus can directly infect a wide variety of cells in the body, it can trigger an overactive immune system which causes damage throughout the body.

It is thought that the immune system does not return to normal after infection and this can cause damage to how the body’s organs function, such as if the lungs become scarred, as has been seen after Sars or Mers infections, which are both types of coronavirus.

Long Covid clinics

The NHS announced in November last year that it would launch a network of more than 40 long Covid specialist clinics in England for those suffering with the long-term effects of the virus.

The 43 clinics will bring together doctors, nurses, therapists and other NHS staff to assess patients’ physical and psychological symptoms, which can cause continuing fatigue, brain fog, breathlessness and pain.

The news comes following a study which suggests young and previously healthy people with ongoing Covid-19 symptoms are showing signs of damage to multiple organs four months after the initial infection.

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