By Heather Stith

February 2, 2021

Most people who get sick from COVID-19 stop experiencing symptoms within a couple of weeks, but some people, known as “long haulers,” experience a variety of symptoms for months after the initial diagnosis. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, but its effects are felt beyond the lungs. According to the CDC, long haulers report symptoms affecting numerous systems in the body:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or remembering
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Intermittent fever
  • Heart palpitations
  • Persistent changes in smell and taste
  • Rashes
  • Hair loss
  • Sleep issues
  • Anxiety and mood changes

Most frustrating for patients and the providers treating them is not only the variety of symptoms, but also the fluctuations in the symptoms themselves. Symptoms disappear completely only to return days later or be replaced by new symptoms. Also, the likelihood of having Post-COVID-19 Syndrome symptoms doesn’t seem to relate to the severity of the initial infection. Some long haulers might never have been hospitalized or had a positive test for COVID-19.

Evaluating these patients for treatment is complex, because, as a summary of UK guidelines published in the BMJ put it, “No one set of investigations and tests would be suitable for everyone because of the wide range of symptoms and severity.” Depending on a patient’s symptoms, recommended tests could include:

  • Blood tests to evaluate kidney and liver function and inflammatory conditions
  • Scans of the heart and lungs
  • Monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels during exercise and rest or while standing and lying down

Once a patient has been evaluated and any underlying non-COVID-19 issues that might cause symptoms have been ruled out, the path to treatment and recovery varies widely and is rapidly changing. In the United States, Post COVID Care Centers have expanded across 30 states to facilitate care across numerous specialties, including cardiology, physical and occupational therapy, and behavioral health. Advocacy groups such as Survivor Corps are connecting thousands of long haulers with each other and with researchers to assist with recovery. Here at hc1, we are building new ways to incorporate current COVID-19 insights into our precision testing and prescribing solutions to support high-value care.

Researchers are just beginning to learn about the potential long-term health consequences for patients who have had COVID-19. What is becoming clear is that delivering high-value care for COVID-19 long haulers will require a data-driven, multidisciplinary approach that is personalized for each patient’s experience of the disease. 

If you have had COVID-19, make sure all of your healthcare providers are aware of this fact as it might have implications for your healthcare going forward. All patients, even those who haven’t had COVID-19, should check with their providers about what health screenings they should complete that they may have postponed earlier in the pandemic. A blood test to detect circulating antibodies to the virus causing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can be performed to see if an asymptomatic case may have occurred that you were not aware of. This must be tested before a preventive vaccination for COVID-19.

If you are a healthcare provider, make sure that patients’ COVID-19 histories are accounted for in your existing processes. For more information about how hc1 can help you ensure that patients get the right tests and the right prescriptions, request a demonstration.

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