What is long COVID and what are the symptoms?

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News that Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews was still dealing with symptoms of long COVID over the weekend had many wondering: what exactly is long COVID and what are the symptoms?

Toews, who hasn't played since Jan. 28, issued a statement over the weekend saying he's "still dealing with the symptoms of Long COVID and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome."

"It has been really challenging to play through these symptoms. In the last few weeks, it has reached the point where I had no choice but to step back and concentrate on getting healthy," he said.

For some who contract COVID, symptoms can last for quite some time as part of a condition known as "long COVID."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID symptoms typically appear anywhere from two to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus. The CDC says most people with COVID-19 "get better within a few days to a few weeks after infection."

But for some, symptoms may last longer -- much longer. As is the case with Toews.

Here's what we know about long COVID and the symptoms so far:

What is long COVID?

COVID "long-haulers,” are defined as individuals who have had COVID symptoms for six or more weeks, Northwestern Medicine has said.

But, according to the CDC, four weeks after infection is when post-COVID conditions could first be identified.

"Most people with post-COVID conditions experienced symptoms days after their SARS CoV-2 infection when they knew they had COVID-19, but some people with post-COVID conditions did not notice when they first had an infection," the CDC states.

Names for the condition include long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, chronic COVID, among others.

How long can symptoms last?

"Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems," the CDC states. "These conditions can last weeks, months, or years."

A study from Northwestern Medicine last year showed that many so-called COVID "long-haulers" continue to experience symptoms like brain fog, tingling, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus and fatigue an average of 15 months after the onset of the virus.

What are the symptoms?

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has noted that coughs in particular can often linger up to a month after testing positive for the virus, even if a patient isn't contagious anymore.

"The cough tends to be what lingers," Arwady said previously. "That doesn't mean that you're still infectious. It's that you've had a lot of inflammation in your airways and the cough is your body's attempt to sort of continue to expel any potential invader and allow it to calm down."

People who got COVID-19 also had a higher risk of dangerous blood clots for close to a year later, according to a large new study on the aftereffects of a SARS-CoV-2 infection during the period before vaccines became available.

As seen in previous studies, COVID-19 was linked to a sharply increased risk of blood clot-related issues – including heart attack and stroke – immediately after diagnosis compared to people who never had COVID-19. But the new study found that risk remained higher for some problems up to 49 weeks later.

Long-COVID symptoms can range from a wide variety of ailments, some of which may even disappear and then return later.

"Post-COVID conditions may not affect everyone the same way. People with post-COVID conditions may experience health problems from different types and combinations of symptoms happening over different lengths of time," the CDC reports. "Most patients’ symptoms slowly improve with time. However, for some people, post-COVID conditions may last months, and potentially years, after COVID-19 illness and may sometimes result in disability."

According to the CDC, the most common long symptoms include:

General symptoms

  •     Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
  •     Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
  •     Fever

Respiratory and heart symptoms

  •     Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  •     Cough
  •     Chest pain
  •     Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

Neurological symptoms

  •     Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  •     Headache
  •     Sleep problems
  •     Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
  •     Pins-and-needles feelings
  •     Change in smell or taste
  •     Depression or anxiety

Digestive symptoms

  •     Diarrhea
  •     Stomach pain

Other symptoms

    Joint or muscle pain
    Rash
    Changes in menstrual cycles

Sometimes, the symptoms can be difficult to explain. Some may even experience multiorgan effects or autoimmune conditions with symptoms lasting weeks or months after COVID-19 illness, the CDC reports.

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