Medical Director’s Corner

Dr Valena Fiscus

These past 2 years as we navigated through the devastating effects of the novel COVID-19 virus and its variants, most of the information and data that we concerned ourselves with were the acute complications and deaths it caused. As COVID-19 continues to abate, we are now examining the long term effects this deadly virus has had on those who were infected. Medical professionals saw from the beginning that side effects from acute infection such as pulmonary scaring, neurological complications from stroke and cardiac damage with heart failure, to name a few, are some of the more severe lingering effects; often sequela of severe COVID-19 infection. However, there are a large group of previously infected persons that exhibit more subtle yet equally disturbing effects which has been termed, long COVID. 

Long COVID has a wide range of varying effects independent on severity of previous COVID-19 symptoms. While we are still learning about this disease, initial hypothesis of cause is autoimmunity, or how the body’s immune system reacts against itself producing inflammation. Long COVID can affect all organ systems from the brain with cognitive decline, headache, depression and “brain fog” to the heart with palpitations, tachycardia and increased risk of heart disease. We’ve even seen increases in blood clot risk post-COVID with strokes, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and heart attacks. Some symptoms are sometimes confused with other rheumatological symptoms such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematous or chronic fatigue syndrome. Women seem to be affected by long COVID more than men and we see this true with most autoimmune disorders.  Children can also be affected, although less commonly than adults. Vaccination helped reduce long COVID risks by 50% in those with breakthrough infections.  

Research is currently ongoing for long COVID. There is no definitive treatment but there are medications that can help people struggling improve symptomatically. If you have had COVID, no matter if your disease was asymptomatic, mild or severe, and are experiencing symptoms that may be long COVID, talk to your doctor about it. You do not have to struggle alone and there are support groups and specialists available that may be able to help. 

Sincerely,
Valena Fiscus, DO, MPH


 

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Public Health