If you were one of the many Malaysians who were infected with COVID-19, its normal to have questions about the effects of the disease, in particular the long term effects of COVID-19. This article discusses a phenomenon called long COVID, or post COVID conditions.
To define it, post COVID conditions are where people still experience symptoms that can last a month or longer after recovering from an initial COVID-19 infection. A person of any age who has been infected with COVID can experience post COVID conditions. These symptoms range from headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pains and muscle aches among others and can also be present in a person who had no symptoms in the initial infection. Some symptoms that occur are similar to that experienced by persons with mild to moderate COVID infections. There also does not appear to be a specific group that is affected by post COVID conditions as data shows younger, more healthy patients also experience these symptoms.
As of now the criteria for diagnosing this would be the patient first has to have been infected with COVID-19, and then to continue experiencing these symptoms after the usual period of infection is over. This makes it mostly a clinical diagnosis, in that clinical judgement is the main factor. However, there are some blood tests that can be used to monitor inflammatory markers, which is theorized to increase during COVID and post COVID conditions as the virus causes a strong immune response. However, there is no one blood test to confirm if a person is experiencing post COVID symptoms.
What to do if you happen to be suffering from post COVID conditions is to first ensure that its not another active COVID infection, and this can be done via PCR testing. The next point of care should be visiting a clinic to see a primary care doctor such as a GP as they can make the necessary recommendations and referrals to specialists or hospitals as needed. Seeing as it is usually is systemic, and involves multiple organs there is no one specialist that may be equipped to handle post COVID conditions. Your primary care doctor will take an approach that will help with not only the physical effects of COVID, but also the mental and emotional burden it puts on patients. Mood changes and problems with concentration have been found to be a common symptom and while going to a specialist may help, its more important to take a healthcare approach that addresses all aspects of the problem and not just the obvious physical ones.
Currently there are no approved treatments for post COVID conditions. one of the things you can do for yourself if you are experiencing these symptoms is to work to reduce inflammation in your body. This could involve eating an anti-inflammatory diet, such as a Mediterranean one, which is a diet that is mostly plant based, plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and to avoid dairy and red meat where possible. Another thing that can be done is an exercise program aimed at rehabilitation. This involves breathing exercises, stretching and slowly working your way up to strengthening and aerobic exercises, to help bring you back to your pre-sickness function.
Without a doubt, the best way to prevent post COVID conditions is to avoid a COVID infection. Our part can be done to slow down the pandemic by being vaccinated, adhering to social distancing guidelines, avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated areas and proper hand hygiene. For now, research and clinical studies are being done to investigate post COVID conditions and comparing it with similar conditions we already understand, such as chronic fatigue syndrome. These studies will help us understand and subsequently treat post COVID conditions.