Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions


DEFINITION

Post-COVID Conditions

Some people who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can experience long-term effects from their infection, known as post-COVID conditions (PCC) or long COVID.

People call post-COVID conditions by many names, including: long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC), long-term effects of COVID, and chronic COVID.

What You Need to Know

  • Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems; these conditions can last weeks, months, or longer.

  • Post-COVID conditions are found more often in people who had severe COVID-19 illness, but anyone who has been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can experience post-COVID conditions, even people who had mild illness or no symptoms from COVID-19.

  • People who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 and become infected might also be at higher risk of developing post-COVID conditions compared to people who were vaccinated and had breakthrough infections.

  • While most people with post-COVID conditions have evidence of infection or COVID-19 illness, in some cases, a person with post-COVID conditions may not have tested positive for the virus or known they were infected.

  • CDC and partners are working to understand more about who experiences post-COVID conditions and why, including whether groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 are at higher risk.

As of July 2021, “long COVID,” also known as post-COVID conditions, can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Learn more: Guidance on “Long COVID” as a Disability Under the ADA, Section


About Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions

Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people experience after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Most people with COVID-19 get better within a few days to a few weeks after infection, so at least four weeks after infection is the start of when post-COVID conditions could first be identified. Anyone who was infected can experience post-COVID conditions. Most people with post-COVID conditions experienced symptoms days after first learning they had COVID-19, but some people who later experienced post-COVID conditions did not know when they got infected.

There is no test to diagnose post-COVID conditions, and people may have a wide variety of symptoms that could come from other health problems. This can make it difficult for healthcare providers to recognize post-COVID conditions. Your healthcare provider considers a diagnosis of post-COVID conditions based on your health history, including if you had a diagnosis of COVID-19 either by a positive test or by symptoms or exposure, as well as doing a health examination.


Symptoms

People with post-COVID conditions (or long COVID) may experience many symptoms.


People with post-COVID conditions can have a wide range of symptoms that can last more than four weeks or even months after infection. Sometimes the symptoms can even go away or come back again.


Post-COVID conditions may not affect everyone the same way. People with post-COVID conditions may experience health problems from different types and combinations of symptoms happening over different lengths of time. Most patients’ symptoms slowly improve with time. However, for some people, post-COVID conditions can last weeks, months, or longer after COVID-19 illness and can sometimes result in disability.


People who experience post-COVID conditions most commonly report:

General symptoms

  • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life

  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)

  • Fever

Respiratory and heart symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Cough

  • Chest pain

  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

Neurological symptoms

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)

  • Headache

  • Sleep problems

  • Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)

  • Pins-and-needles feelings

  • Change in smell or taste

  • Depression or anxiety

Digestive symptoms

  • Diarrhea

  • Stomach pain

Other symptoms

  • Joint or muscle pain

  • Rash

  • Changes in menstrual cycles

Symptoms that are hard to explain and manage

Some people with post-COVID conditions have symptoms that are not explained by tests.


People with post-COVID conditions may develop or continue to have symptoms that are hard to explain and manage. Clinical evaluations and results of routine blood tests, chest x-rays, and electrocardiograms may be normal. The symptoms are similar to those reported by people with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) and other poorly understood chronic illnesses that may occur after other infections. People with these unexplained symptoms may be misunderstood by their healthcare providers, which can result in a long time for them to get a diagnosis and receive appropriate care or treatment.


Tips for talking to your doctor about post-COVID conditions


Health conditions

Some people experience new health conditions after COVID-19 illness.


Some people, especially those who had severe COVID-19, experience multiorgan effects or autoimmune conditions with symptoms lasting weeks or months after COVID-19 illness. Multiorgan effects can involve many body systems, including the heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain. As a result of these effects, people who have had COVID-19 may be more likely to develop new health conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, or neurological conditions compared with people who have not had COVID-19.


People experiencing any severe illness may develop health problems

People experiencing any severe illness, hospitalization, or treatment may develop problems such as post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS.


PICS refers to the health effects that may begin when a person is in an intensive care unit (ICU), and which may persist after a person returns home. These effects can include muscle weakness, problems with thinking and judgment, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD involves long-term reactions to a very stressful event. For people who experience PICS following a COVID-19 diagnosis, it is difficult to determine whether these health problems are caused by a severe illness, the virus itself, or a combination of both.


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