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Do you have long-Covid? These are the most common symptoms

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People who suspect they have long-Covid are urged to see their GP. Photo: Anna Gowthorpe

People who suspect they have long-Covid are urged to see their GP. Photo: Anna Gowthorpe

People who suspect they have long-Covid are urged to see their GP. Photo: Anna Gowthorpe

The infection may be gone, but many thousands of people across Ireland are still battling the legacy that is long-Covid.

Even people who have had a mild dose are among some of those who are reporting debilitating symptoms months after the infect ion has cleared.

There are as many as 200 different long-Covid symptoms, but while some of these are common, not everyone is affected in the same way. If someone is still feeling like they have not fully recovered from infection three months after getting the virus, they may have long-Covid.

Here is what we know about long-Covid symptoms so far.

Exhaustion

Fatigue has been estimated to affect around half of people with long-Covid, and it can range in severity.

Professor Seamus Linnane, a respiratory physician at the Beacon Hospital in Dublin, who set up the country’s first long-Covid clinic, said he knows of people who look well but struggle to do a day’s work and arrive home with “nothing left” and no energy.

Breathlessness

Around one in three people with long-Covid can experience breathlessness. Some people describe it as feeling “puffed”, “short of breath” or “winded” during normal activities, according to the HSE.

It advises that if you are feeling short of breath, you should stop speaking and moving, give yourself time to recover your breath, relax and distract yourself by focusing on a picture or a view from the window.

Brain fog

This is a catch-all phrase for a variety of ways people describe forms of confusion, forgetfulness and a lack of focus and not thinking straight.

People report that after having had Covid-19 they are still having problems sustaining attention weeks and months later. Others are forgetful and need to write down things they would normally remember.

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Palpitations

People can feel like their heart is racing or fluttering. It is thought that in some people with long-Covid, heart palpitations may be caused by a problem with their autonomic nervous system, which controls things such as your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.

Loss of taste and smell

Food may taste bland, salty, sweet or metallic. One major study found that at six months, the majority of patients have recovered.

Muscle aches

People can report joint stiffness and muscle weakness, back ache or a feeling of pins and needles.

Chest pain

This is a common symptom of Covid. In some people it lasts, or even starts, in the weeks after they have had the virus. Anyone who experiences chest pain should get medical advice as it could be a sign of something more serious.

Persistent cough

This may point to inflammation, which is the immune system’s defensive response to infection. Inflamed tissues produce fluid and swell up, which may lead to cough hypersensitivity.

Variants and symptoms

Prof Linnane said the long-Covid symptom count appears to be shorter for those infected with the Omicron variant compared with Delta, which was circulating here last year.

When it comes to symptoms, the observation is that palpitations are more likely after Omicron compared with Delta, Alpha or the original Wuhan strain.

Overall, it appears that while long-Covid is broadly similar after catching the different strains, the likelihood of developing it may be less with Omicron.

Depression and anxiety

The aftermath of having Covid can leave a legacy. This can be exacerbated by struggles with fatigue and other symptoms. Long-Covid affects more women than men. Hospital admission with Covid also increases the risk of long-Covid.

Drifting from one symptom to another

As more time has elapsed, doctors are getting more insights into how long-Covid can manifest itself. Prof Linnane said he has seen people drift from one symptom to another over time.

They may present with cardiology issues such as palpitations, chest pain and respiratory difficulties, but may progress on to issues such as brain fog and cognitive problems.

Getting a diagnosis

GPs across the country are the first port of call for patients who suspect they have long-Covid. An examination can determine other health problems are not causing the symptoms. There are long-Covid and post-acute Covid clinics in place in a number of public hospitals, but routine waiting times can be up to five months.


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