“It is a true roller coaster of symptoms and severities, with each new day offering many unknowns.”
At first, Lauren Nichols tried to explain away her symptoms. In early March, the healthy 32-year-old felt an intense burning sensation, like acid reflux, when she breathed. Embarrassed, she didn’t initially seek medical care. When her shortness of breath kept getting worse, her doctor tested her for Covid-19.
Her results came back positive. But for Nichols, that was just the beginning. Over the next eight weeks, she developed wide and varied symptoms, including extreme and chronic fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, tremors, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and short-term memory loss.
“The guidelines that were provided by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] were not appropriately capturing the symptoms that I was experiencing, which in turn meant that the medical community was unable to ‘validate’ my symptoms,” she says. “This became a vicious cycle of doubt, confusion, and loneliness.”
An estimated 40 to 45 percent of people with Covid-19 may be asymptomatic, and others will have a mild illness with no lasting symptoms. But Nichols is one of many Covid-19 patients who are finding their recovery takes far longer than the two weeks the World Health Organization says people with mild cases can expect. (The WHO says those with severe or critical cases can expect three to six weeks of recovery.)
Because Covid-19 is a new disease, there are no studies about its long-term trajectory for those with more severe symptoms; even the earliest patients to recover in China were only infected a few months ago. But doctors say the novel coronavirus can attach to human cells in many parts of the body and penetrate many major organs, including the heart, kidneys, brain, and even blood vessels.
“The difficulty is sorting out long-term consequences,” says Joseph Brennan, a cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine. While some patients may fully recover, he and other experts worry others will suffer long-term damage, including lung scarring, heart damage, and neurological and mental health effects.
The UK National Health Service assumes that of Covid-19 patients who have required hospitalization, 45 percent will need ongoing medical care, 4 percent will require inpatient rehabilitation, and 1 percent will permanently require acute care. Other preliminary evidence, as well as historical research on other coronaviruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), suggests that for some people, a full recovery might still be years off. For others, there may be no returning to normal.
There’s a lot we still don’t know, but here are a few of the most notable potential long-term impacts that are already showing up in some Covid-19 patients.
Original publication 12 June, 2020
Posted on NatCorn 26th June 2020
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