Post-COVID Conditions

Some patients who have been unwell with COVID-19 are going on to have persistent symptoms after going home. These symptoms may go on for many months. This doesn't just happen to those who require ICU care.

“Post-COVID Condition” means having symptoms for more than 4 weeks after getting the virus that causes COVID-19. It can also be called “Long COVID”, “Long-haul COVID” and “Chronic COVID”.

Common persistent symptoms are:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities
  • difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes called “brain fog”)
  • cough
  • chest or stomach pain
  • headache
  • fast-beating or pounding heart (heart palpitations)
  • muscle or joint pain
  • pins-and-needles feeling
  • diarrhoea
  • sleep problems
  • fever
  • dizziness when standing up
  • rash
  • mood changes
  • change in smell or taste
  • changes in menstrual cycles

There are a combination of reasons that patients may have ongoing symptoms after COVID-19. We are still learning about all the reasons patients develop Post-COVID Conditions.

Here are some factors that we think play a part in why patients develop Post-COVID Conditions:

Multiorgan effects

“Multiorgan” is used to talk about something affecting many different body systems and organs. Severe COVID-19 disease can affect many organs such as the heart, lungs, kidney, skin and brain. These multiorgan effects may persist for a long time after the patient returns home from ICU.

Autoimmune effects

“Autoimmune” means your immune system fights healthy cells in your body by mistake. This causes swelling, inflammation and damage to different parts of the body (for example the lungs). Severe COVID-19 can cause autoimmune effects. This can also lead to longer term symptoms after returning home from ICU.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS)

One type of severe autoimmune disease is called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS). This has been seen in some people (mostly children) after COVID-19 infection. This can also lead to Post-COVID Conditions

Being in ICU for a long stay

Being in ICU for a long time with a critical illness can cause persistent symptoms. These can be things like muscle weakness, fatigue as well as concentration and memory problems.

About half of patients who are critically ill needing ICU may go on to have persistent symptoms. This has been called Post-Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS).

Other factors

It is hard to know how much other factors playing a part in people's lives after returning home that contribute to Post-COVID Conditions. For example we know some people are experiencing mental health effects from isolation. Many people are trying to cope with ongoing financial stresses and/or difficulties accessing healthcare. Some people may also have other underlying health conditions. We are still learning about the factors that may contribute to Post-COVID Conditions.

Related topics

This topic was reviewed by an intensive care medicine specialist in July 2022.

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