A vaccination record card and face mask on a table.

August 2, 2021

As if having COVID-19 weren’t enough, nearly one-quarter of individuals who recover from their initial COVID-19 infection suffer from at least one persistent, recurrent or new symptom 30 days after their initial COVID-19 diagnosis, a recent study found.

Conducted by independent health care cost and insurance nonprofit FAIR Health, the White Paper study reviewed a private health care claims database to identify nearly 2 million COVID-19 patients for analysis.

While these “Long COVID” symptoms ran the gamut from anxiety to gastrointestinal distress and skin conditions, the most common symptoms were pain, breathing trouble, high cholesterol, fatigue and high blood pressure.

Who is Affected by Long COVID?

The study found that “long-haulers” were people of all ages. About half had been hospitalized for acute COVID-19 complications; nearly a third were symptomatic but not hospitalized; and about one in five were asymptomatic.

Specific Long COVID symptoms varied by demographic. In general, women were more likely to report Long COVID symptoms than men, yet men were more likely to experience 12 specific conditions, including post-COVID cardiac inflammation, a condition more prevalent in individuals aged 19-29. Pediatric patients (aged 0-18) were more likely to experience gastrointestinal distress than the general study population.

What Causes Long COVID?

Studies are underway to understand what causes persistent post-COVID health problems. Some believe they could be caused by organ damage. The virus that causes COVID-19 can damage the lungs, heart, nervous system, kidneys, skin, liver and other organs. Some believe the culprit is a persistent inflammatory or autoimmune response. And mental health problems can arise from severe illness.

Talk to Your Doctor

“Long COVID has become a catch-all for multiple disease processes or syndromes,” says pulmonary diseases and critical care specialist Kiran Nair, DO, who says he avoids using the term altogether. “I want to prevent the misconception among patients who might say, ‘All I have is Long COVID, and there’s nothing I can do about it,’ when in fact they may have an underlying condition that can easily be treated,” he says. “There are plenty of conditions that can cause fatigue, for instance, such as anemia or low thyroid function, that can easily be managed.”

He recommends that individuals with lingering post-COVID-19 health issues discuss their issues with their primary care physician, who can evaluate the patient to understand the true underlying cause. “It’s important to assess the patient’s health condition prior to COVID-19 and afterwards,” he says. “The use of steroids to treat a COVID-19 positive patient in the hospital might affect the patient’s blood cholesterol levels, for instance. Whereas for another post-COVID-19 patient, high cholesterol might be a chronic issue.”

If necessary, the primary care physician can refer the patient to a specialist for further testing, diagnosis and treatment.

How Can You Prevent Long COVID?

The best way to avoid becoming a long-hauler is to avoid becoming infected in the first place. Protect yourself and your family by getting vaccinated. To learn more, visit https://www.memorialhermann.org/services/conditions/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine-frequently-asked-questions.

The information in this article is accurate as of August 2, 2021.

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