Everything You Need to Know about Coping with Long COVID
If you or a loved one recovered from COVID months ago and still aren’t feeling 100 percent, you’re not alone: Symptoms can linger in many patients for weeks or even months, and doctors are still trying to find out why. George Alba, associate director of Mass General’s Coronavirus Recovery (CORE) clinic, shares some of what he’s learned over the past year studying the aftermath of the virus—and what to do if you’re still struggling.
Every case is different.
Some patients have cases that manifest in the lungs. Others have neurological issues such as brain fog. Still others lose their senses of taste and smell for months on end. For the most critically ill COVID patients, the mental aftermath can be just as acute. “There is a distinct population with high rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder related to their ICU stay,” Alba says. So play it safe and seek medical attention if you’re still feeling off—physically or mentally.
Tell your doctor everything you’re feeling.
Because it’s so new, Alba says “long COVID” doesn’t have a technical medical definition. For that reason, it’s important to give your doctor as complete a story as possible—because your unique symptoms might help shape what we know about this disease. “It’s incumbent on us as physicians to learn from patients’ experiences,” Alba says. “Even if [right now] we can’t offer a tangible intervention or therapy to improve symptoms.”
Getting your pulse up helps.
One of the most common symptoms of long COVID is shortness of breath, or not being able to exercise at the same level as you did before you got sick, even if your lung tests and imaging come back normal. “The most important thing people have done to improve is do aerobic exercise,” Alba says. “A lot of people during their acute illness didn’t do much activity…. With exercise, people are slowly improving and getting back to where they once were.”
“What I tell people is to continue going on as if you never had COVID,” Alba says. That means you should keep social distancing and wearing a mask—and get vaccinated when eligible. “We’ve definitely seen patients get re-infected with COVID and have symptoms all over again. Nobody is necessarily immune.”
Resources for Long-Haulers
Get by with an assist from these support groups.
Body Politic COVID-19 Support Group
More than 18,000 people have signed up to be a part of this community, which includes 50-plus specialized Slack channels for patients with a range of COVID-19 experiences.
This organization’s 150,000-member public Facebook page is a hub for those looking to compare symptoms, ask questions, or just vent.
COVID Survivors for Change
Looking to connect with fellow survivors on an even more personal level? Join this group’s free, weekly COVIDConnections webinar. Led by a licensed mental health professional, it delves into the grief and trauma felt by those affected by the disease. The community also operates a private Facebook support group.
Long Covid Support
This international peer support and advocacy group exclusively welcomes those coping with the effects of long COVID to its private Facebook community of more than 36,000.