Nearly a year into the global coronavirus pandemic, scientists, doctors and patients are beginning to unlock a puzzling phenomenon: For many patients, including young ones who never required hospitalization, Covid-19 has a devastating second act.
Many are dealing with symptoms weeks or months after they were expected to recover, often with puzzling new complications that can affect the entire body—severe fatigue, cognitive issues and memory lapses, digestive problems, erratic heart rates, headaches, dizziness, fluctuating blood pressure, even hair loss.
What is surprising to doctors is that many such cases involve people whose original cases weren’t the most serious, undermining the assumption that patients with mild Covid-19 recover within two weeks. Doctors call the condition “post-acute Covid” or “chronic Covid,” and sufferers often refer to themselves as “long haulers” or “long-Covid” patients.
“Usually, the patients with bad disease are most likely to have persistent symptoms, but Covid doesn’t work like that,” said Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary care at the University of Oxford and the lead author of an August BMJ study that was among the first to define chronic Covid patients as those with symptoms lasting more than 12 weeks and spanning multiple organ systems.
For many such patients, she said, “the disease itself is not that bad,” but symptoms like memory lapses and rapid heart rate sometimes persist for months.