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Health & Wellness

Doctors continue to seek understanding of 'long COVID'

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Doctors are learning there are long-term health problems for many people who had COVID. The medical mystery they’re looking at now is, for how long and in what ways.

When patients recover from many diseases, they move on in life. COVID isn't like that. In many cases, there is what's called “long COVID,” which lets bad effects drag on.

Patients have listed problems afterwards, like brain fog and fatigue. Doctors are finding physical damage, like lung problems and kidney problems. Potentially, that could be a bad sign for the future health of the patient and there are a lot of efforts to find and measure the after-effects.

There are concerns even more serious health problems will show up down the line.

“The organs are sort of like tires. You have so many miles you can get each time you change your tires and, so, if you get infected with COVID, you may take a little bit of a hit in an organ and it may not be obvious or clinically overt, initially, but over years and decades when you get other insults to those organs or other damage to those organs, it'll catch up with you more quickly,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of the Division of Infectious Disease in the Department of Medicine at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs Medical school.

Doctors are starting to understand some of the issues and learning what to look for, using regular medical procedures. Dr. Russo says these may include pulmonary function tests, echocardiograms, and mental status exams.

Because of the diffuse nature of American medical care and data, it's hard to determine the extent of these problems. That's why the National Institutes of Health started a study to determine the extent of these problems.

“NIH has recognized this. Back in February, they made an announcement that they are putting large amount of dollars into studying this particular syndrome and they are enrolling and recruiting patients in a long term study,” Dr. Russo said. “So, this is being addressed at the research level. But, it's going to take some time to sort it out, unfortunately.”

But Russo adds that doctors have to be careful when evaluating a patient who comes in with some of the symptoms of long COVID but who say they never had the virus. They might have had what they considered a minor issue like a cold in the early days when testing was either non-existent or scarce and didn't realize they had COVID, and the doctor needs to query the patient about medical history.