By Mary Stetson
Ken Todd was a marathon runner before contracting COVID-19. Now, he is one of thousands of New York residents who suffer from Long COVID, which he calls “a life-changing disability.” Over a year after becoming infected with the virus, Todd suffers debilitating symptoms affecting his everyday life. For example, he says, “quite often, after I do something, I have to go home and lay down.”
What is Long COVID?
Post-COVID Conditions, or Long COVID, refers to long-term effects from COVID-19.
Long COVID is not one illness, but “a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people experience after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports.
Although most people who contract COVID-19 recover anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after a COVID-19 infection, Long COVID begins four or more weeks after infection.
In 2021, Long COVID was officially recognized as a condition that can be considered an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) disability.
Who is Affected
Long COVID is usually found in people who experienced severe cases of COVID-19—especially those requiring intensive care or hospitalization. However, anyone infected with a COVID-19 virus can be affected by Long COVID.
Unvaccinated, infected people have a higher risk of developing Long COVID than those who were vaccinated against the virus. Vaccinated people who experience breakthrough infections are also less likely than unvaccinated people to be affected by Long COVID, research shows.
Although a COVID-19 infection or illness is present in the majority of Long COVID cases, there are some cases in which someone with Long COVID may not have had a positive COVID-19 test, or was unaware of infection.
People with underlying health conditions, and people affected by MIS (multisystem inflammatory syndrome) during or after having COVID-19 are also more susceptible to developing Long COVID.
Although children and adolescents can be affected, Long COVID is more common in adults.
Health inequities in minority groups, as well as some people who have disabilities, can also increase the risk for Long COVID. An inability to obtain healthcare, as well as risk of COVID-19 being higher due to where people live or work, can increase COVID-19 and Long COVID risks.
What are the Symptoms?
Long COVID can cause a wide range of symptoms, which can continue in the weeks, months, or years following an infection. Symptoms can disappear and return, in some cases.
Fatigue or tiredness interfering with daily life
Symptoms that worsen after physical or mental exertion
Respiratory symptoms such as a cough, chest pain, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and heart palpitations
Neurological symptoms such as problems with concentrating or thinking, headache, dizziness upon standing, changes in taste or smell or problems with sleep
Digestive symptoms such as diarrhea and stomach pain
Muscle or joint pain
Menstrual cycle changes
How Do I Know if I Have Long COVID?
Although there is no test for Long COVID, your healthcare provider can diagnose the condition using your health history, a previous COVID-19 illness, and an examination.
Preventing a COVID-19 infection is the best step you can take to avoid Long COVID. Vaccination, distancing from people with the virus, taking COVID-19 tests when needed, and hand washing are all ways to protect yourself from COVID-19.
Mary Stetson is a marketing intern at I’RAISE. She is a 2022 graduate of Framingham State University with a Bachelor of Arts in English, and is also currently doing a service internship with the Commonwealth Corps. She lives on Cape Cod.