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Long Covid: what are the key symptoms? And are there any treatments available?

Worried that you may potentially have ‘long Covid’? From the key symptoms to look out for to when to seek help, here’s everything you need to know.

While the rise of the Omicron variant may have led most who catch Covid-19 to experience milder symptoms – especially those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted – many people are still (rightly) worried about the risk of developing long Covid after an infection.

Although scientists are not yet sure whether Omicron causes similar rates of long Covid to other variants such as Delta, previous research has shown that even mild cases of Covid-19 can lead to persistent symptoms, so it’s likely to still present some kind of a risk.

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With reports of people facing long-lasting Covid-19 symptoms regularly popping up in the news, it’s understandable that many people have questions about the condition – and what to do if they’re experiencing persistent symptoms after testing positive, too.  

So, with that in mind, Stylist reached out to Dr Gareth Nye, a lecturer of anatomy and physiology at the University of Chester’s Medical School, to find out more about the post-viral condition. Here’s what he had to say. 

What is long Covid?

The definition of long Covid is more complex than symptoms just lasting a couple of weeks after you test positive.

“Long Covid is short for ‘long-term effects of Covid infection’ referring to disease states lasting weeks and months after the initial infection,” Dr Nye explains.

“In essence, this is a combination of the changes Covid has had to your underlying physiology and the result of your body trying to fight the infection. In some cases, this triggers your body to attack itself leading to autoimmune diseases. The actual long Covid you feel is quite specific to the individual because of this.”

The length of time you need to experience symptoms to be diagnosed with long Covid varies from country to country. In the UK, this threshold is 12 weeks. 

The symptoms of long Covid can vary from person to person, depending on what’s happened in your body during the initial infection.

What are the symptoms of long Covid?

The symptoms of long Covid can vary from person to person, depending on what’s happened in your body during the initial infection.

“The symptoms are quite varied,” Dr Nye says. “They range from tiredness and an inability to sleep linked to loss of focus and mood changes through to changes in our heart rhythms, chest pain or a shortness of breath. Often the Covid cough is still present.”

The NHS website has a broader list of common long Covid symptoms, which also include:

  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • joint pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes

You can check out the full list of common symptoms on the NHS website

How long does long Covid last?

In a similar way to the typical symptoms of long Covid, the length of time the condition lasts varies from person to person.

“While you aren’t classified as having long Covid until you’ve had persistent symptoms for 12 weeks, we still don’t fully understand how long symptoms can last for yet,” Dr Nye says. 

Is there any treatment for long Covid?

While there are treatments to deal with the symptoms long Covid causes, there are currently no specific treatments for the condition as a whole.

“Unfortunately, the treatments are specific to the symptoms currently and we still do not know the underlying causes to treat,” Dr Nye explains.

“You may be given drugs to open up airways or alter heart rates. Pain medications may be given for musculoskeletal pains. However, if you develop an autoimmune disease because of Covid, this will often need to involve major life changes.”

What should you do if you think you have long Covid?

If you’re worried about your symptoms, or they’re having a significant impact on your day-to-day life, you should contact your GP. 

While the symptoms won’t be diagnosed as long Covid until you reach the 12-week threshold, the NHS recommends seeking help as early as four weeks after infection if you’re concerned.

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“If you do suspect you have long Covid, it is worth contacting a health care provider who can do additional tests like blood tests, scans and physical exams to see if you have a different disease in the first instance,” Dr Nye suggests.

“If it is confirmed as long Covid, based on the testing you may be given specific treatment options to alleviate the issue.” 

If you’re struggling with long Covid and would like some additional support, you can check out the NHS’ ‘Your Covid Recovery’ online rehab centre which has links to information and resources which can help you with your recovery. 

The post-Covid hub from Asthma UK and The British Lung Foundation is also offering support for people left with breathing difficulties after Covid-19.

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