Long COVID is a collection of symptoms that last three months or longer after your first COVID symptoms. It can steal your energy, your ability to think clearly, and your sense of smell or taste. You might feel anxious or depressed, get frequent headaches, be short of breath or have heart palpitations. Treatment depends on your specific symptoms.
Long COVID is a collection of symptoms you might experience after your initial (acute) COVID symptoms get better. You thought you’d only have to deal with COVID for a week or two, but you’re still exhausted all the time. Or you can’t think straight. Food you once loved tastes metallic — or you can’t taste it at all. You might not be able to remember the last time you got a good night’s sleep.
Long COVID isn’t one symptom or set of symptoms. It’s any medical condition linked to a COVID-19 infection that goes on for three months or longer after your first COVID symptoms. It can happen whether you had a mild case of COVID or a severe one. The symptoms could be similar to autoimmune, lung, heart, neurological or psychological disorders. Some symptoms are mild and others are completely debilitating. They may come and go, change or get worse over time. You may feel like you never really got better from your initial bout with COVID at all.
Long COVID is also called long-haul COVID, post-COVID syndrome (or conditions) and post-acute sequelae of COVID-19. In many people, it’s compared to myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Because of the different symptoms and possible causes, there’s no single treatment that works for everyone.
Post-COVID conditions may affect about 5% to 10% of people who’ve had a COVID infection. But the variety of symptoms and differences in how long they last can make it hard to know exactly how many people experience it.
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Long COVID has a variety of symptoms. Some people with long COVID have more than one symptom, but most people don’t experience all of them. The two most common symptoms are fatigue (lack of energy) and shortness of breath. Other possible symptoms include:
Experts can’t pinpoint one single cause for long COVID. But other coronaviruses, including Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), have been known to cause long-term effects. So perhaps it’s no surprise that COVID symptoms can last a long time, too. Multiple factors might contribute to the causes of long COVID, including:
You’re at higher risk for long COVID if you:
Healthcare providers diagnose long COVID by listening to your symptoms and your health history. They may also perform tests to understand more about your symptoms and how to treat them. Depending on your symptoms, they might perform:
There isn’t one treatment for long COVID. You and your provider may need to try a few different options to find what works for you. Depending on your symptoms, treatment options might include:
There’s no single way to prevent long COVID, but there are some ways to reduce your risk. They include:
Symptoms of long COVID may come and go or get better or worse over time. Many long-haulers do eventually get better, though how long that takes is different for each person. You may need to:
After COVID, many people feel tired or run down for several weeks. But for some people, fatigue and other symptoms last for months or longer. Most people with long COVID recover within 12 to 18 months.
See a healthcare provider if you have:
Tell them about your symptoms and how they’re impacting your life. Let them know when you had COVID and when your current symptoms started.
Go to the emergency room (ER) if your symptoms suddenly get worse or you have symptoms of severe illness, including:
It might be helpful to ask a healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Sometimes, medical knowledge lags behind what patients have already been experiencing for a long time. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in understanding some of the long-lasting symptoms of COVID. Many healthcare providers now work together on diverse teams dedicated to understanding and treating your symptoms.
It’s still a learning process — it may take some trial and error to find the treatment that works best for you. Enlist the help of someone who can advocate for you if you aren’t able to do so yourself. They can help you find healthcare providers, support groups and counseling. Let your family, friends and employer or school know that you may need extra time on certain tasks or more breaks. Giving yourself permission to be gentle with yourself while you recover can be the first step to feeling better.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/19/2023.
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