Long COVID – What is it?
Updated 24th February - for the most up to date coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance and information, please visit the NHS or government’s dedicated pages. This advice may differ in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Long COVID, also known as post-COVID syndrome, is a term used to describe COVID-19 symptoms that persist for several weeks or months.
Most people infected with COVID-19 will be ill for a few weeks and make a complete recovery within three months. For some people, the illness continues for longer. It’s thought that about one in 10 people have symptoms for 12 weeks or longer.
We’re still learning how COVID-19 works works and why it affects people in different ways. We don’t know exactly why it causes ongoing symptoms, or why long COVID only affects certain people. It doesn’t seem to be related to how ill you feel to begin with – some people who only have mild symptoms at first are still feeling ill months later.
If you’ve had the virus, and you’re still experiencing symptoms many weeks or months later, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP. Even if you don’t need medical treatment, speaking to a doctor can be a good way to get helpful advice and put your mind at ease.
Long COVID symptoms
There are lots of different symptoms associated with long COVID or post-COVID syndrome. The main factor that will determine if you have long COVID is how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms.
Some doctors identify long COVID as symptoms lasting beyond 12 weeks. Others will diagnose it if symptoms persist beyond eight weeks.
If you have long COVID, it’s likely that you’ve experienced some of the following:
- Fatigue (feeling extremely tired)
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
- Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling dizzy
- Pins and needles
- Pain in the joints
- Feeling anxious and depressed
- Earache and ringing in the ears
- Nausea and diarrhoea
- Stomach aches
- Loss of appetite
- Fever (high temperature)
- Cough and sore throat
- Changes to sense of smell and/or taste
You don’t have to have experienced all these symptoms to have long COVID. You also might find that some of your symptoms aren’t listed. This is because we’re still learning about this condition, and how it affects our bodies.
How long do long COVID symptoms last?
Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about COVID-19 to give guidance on this subject. Similar viruses can cause ongoing symptoms for three to six months, but it’s hard to know if COVID-19 will affect people in the same way.
Should I speak to a doctor about my symptoms?
If you’ve been living with symptoms for more than four weeks, and you’re concerned, the NHS advises that you talk to your GP.
Your GP might want to see you face to face to do some tests. They might want to check your blood pressure and heart rate, take some blood, or even arrange a chest X-ray.
If your symptoms are severe and they’re impacting your daily life, your GP might be able to refer you for specialist help.
Long COVID recovery
There’s no specific way to treat long COVID, but there are some things you can do to manage your symptoms at home.
The NHS has created a website called Your COVID Recovery, which is designed for people who’ve had the virus. Under Managing the Effects, you’ll find some useful guidance about coping with some of the most common symptoms.
As an example, this page gives really useful guidance about how to cope with breathlessness.