If you or someone you know has had COVID-19, you (or the other person) may have noticed some symptoms of the virus that linger several months after recovering from it. This phenomenon is called “Long COVID,” or “Post-COVID,” and it affects about 10-30 percent of people who contract the virus. While it can affect any age demographic, it’s especially concerning for those over the age of 65, as senior citizens are the most vulnerable age group when it comes to this virus. Dr. Lauren Barfield, an internist and the Medical Director of Adult Primary Care for Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group, answers these common questions you may have about Long COVID and what you can do to prevent it.
What is “Long COVID?”
Long COVID is a syndrome of persistent COVID-19 symptoms that last greater than two-three months. Symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, cough, loss of taste or smell, headaches, and heart palpitations. Anxiety, depression, and issues with concentration and memory have been reported, too.
What can be done to treat it?
Every patient that is experiencing Long COVID has to be treated differently because each case is different. “Even if someone had a mild case of the virus, they have experienced some form of Long COVID, so we haven’t been able to pinpoint which person is going to get what,” Dr. Barfield explains. “Unfortunately, there is no medication that specifically targets COVID-19 or Post-COVID. We usually do a diagnosis of exclusion where we exclude the fact that there’s an underlying condition. For example, COVID-19 has been associated with blood clots, which causes shortness of breath. If a patient that has previously had the virus comes in with shortness of breath, we partner with cardiologists and pulmonologists to make sure everything is okay, then we’re left with treating the patients’ lingering symptoms. Most people experiencing Long COVID will improve in about three-six months.”
What can adults, specifically seniors, do to prevent it?
“As of today, we haven’t found a way to predict who is going to persist with symptoms, so the best way to prevent it is to not get the virus,” Dr. Barfield instructs. “That’s why we are encouraging patients to get vaccinated and boosted. I have found senior citizens to be more trusting of the vaccine. They understand the severity of not being protected against the virus, especially because they are within a high-risk age group.”
Even if you have not experienced Post-COVID or the virus itself, there is a deeper side effect that may impact you. According to Dr. Barfield, “one of the health outcomes we have seen is that patients are not seeking regular care from their primary doctors, and, as a result, we have seen higher rates of treatable illnesses such as anxiety, depression, obesity, and diabetes.”
This “Long COVID” syndrome happens when a patient is not seeking care for the health problems they may already have. The best thing you can do to prevent all this is to get vaccinated and boosted. Getting vaccinated does not guarantee that you will not catch the virus, but it will certainly lessen your chances of experiencing any severe symptoms that may last long.[vc_separator][vc_column_text]By Emily Drez