Long COVID: Time and medical support will help patients to recover properly, say doctors

They say older people and those who had five or more symptoms in the first week of being affected with the pandemic are more prone to develop long COVID.

With the medical community now having had the time to map long COVID, doctors confirm that they are seeing patients whose symptoms have persisted for more than 12 months. They say that older people, and those who had five or more symptoms in the first week of becoming ill with COVID-19 are more prone to develop long COVID.

Long COVID symptoms gradually improve over a period of time, but can last for more than 12 months.

“It is also found that long COVID was higher among people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, live in deprived areas or had severe COVID illness and needed to be admitted to hospital,” says Manoj Goel, director, Pulmonology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute.

Long COVID is a term to describe the effects of COVID-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness, usually three months from the onset of the symptoms.

The common symptoms include — fatigue, shortness of breath, anxiety and depression, palpitations, chest tightness or pain, joint or muscle pain and persistent cough.

Dr. Goel adds that most of the long COVID symptoms are self-limiting over a period of time leading to complete recovery in the majority of cases.

People should continue treatment of other pre-existing comorbidities such as diabetes, asthma and cardiac diseases as per their doctor’s instructions. Doctors warn that people should remember that the reinfection with COVID is possible in some individuals.

Mahendra Dadke, Head of Department, Internal Medicine, Jupiter Hospital, Pune, says that the worst-hit age group is between 40 and 60.

“We have had many patients with long COVID and we are having regular follow-ups with them. They are on medications and rehab programme which is being made for them which includes regular chest physiotherapy, then supplementations, then medications for remodelling of the lung tissue,” he added.

Archana Dhawan Bajaj, gynaecologist, obstretician and IVF expert Nurture IVF, says that so far, children have been relatively well-protected from the most severe symptoms of the disease, however, it is becoming more apparent that a large number of children with symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 face long-term effects, even many months after the initial infection.

A study of long COVID in children suggests that at least one symptom lasts more than 120 days in more than half of children aged between six and 16 who contract the virus.

Charu Goel Sachdeva, HOD and consultant -Internal Medicine, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, explains that long COVID took a toll on daily working, job and all other things, and there is no timeline till when this will continue. “We are now wondering with the new COVID variant [Omicron] how it will affect the people who are already suffering from the previous infection,” he said.

Akshay Budhraja, consultant, respiratory and sleep medicine, says that long COVID can be recognised by knowing the patient’s history and symptoms and through clinical examination.

He says that some cases also require radiological help to detect long COVID and blood tests.

“In cases of respiratory issues in patients, a CT scan is a must, patients who were on oxygen support for a long time, they do require lung function test i.e., pulmonary function test and CT chest scan. Through these tests we can detect if a patient has fibrosis, if their lung function is not normal and what is the level of obstruction. Once the test results comes through, we give our patients medicines accordingly to help them improve their lung function and decrease their fibrosis. Time and adequate medical guidance will only help the patients to recover properly,” he says.

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