Nurses Must Be Aware of “Long-COVID”
The veracity of COVID-19 has been one of the most difficult factors in treating it. For some, symptoms are mild and easily overcome in a few days. For others, the illness hits hard and the effects are severe, requiring hospitalization. Now, there’s a third group that is becoming more pronounced. For these individuals, “long COVID” can last for weeks or even months, leaving sufferers miserable and prone to a host of other afflictions.
What is long COVID?
The average person diagnosed with COVID-19 can expect to recover in approximately two weeks — or up to six weeks in more severe cases. Regardless of whether their case is mild or severe, patients do expect to recover. Unfortunately, there is a growing group of COVID-positive patients who aren’t recovering nearly as quickly as anticipated. This group is experiencing “long COVID.”
Long COVID is characterized by long-term health problems following a COVID-19 diagnosis. Patients are reporting symptoms — both similar and different from the average COVID-19 symptoms — for months after their initial diagnosis.
Experts understand that lung, kidney, heart, and brain damage are all possibilities for COVID-19 patients, given the presence of the virus in various organ tissues. However, long COVID sufferers are reporting symptoms that are not necessarily severe, but long-lasting. Symptoms include cough and shortness of breath, fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, chest pain, heart palpitations, headaches, joint pain, decreased exercise tolerance, and depression.
The prevalence of these symptoms over the course of months is resulting in a progressive health decline that’s made worse by susceptibility to even more illness. People with long COVID have quickly become an at-risk group whose immune systems weaken the longer they live with the virus.
What’s most concerning about long COVID is that it’s not well understood. While the focus has largely been on patients who become critically ill and die from COVID-19, this growing group of “COVID long-haulers” are experiencing widespread health problems and lasting damage. This shifts COVID-19 from an acute condition to a degenerative one — and one that many patients fear they will never fully recover from.
Long COVID awareness is key in nursing
Because of the growing number of COVID long-haulers and the uncertainty surrounding the condition’s symptoms and causes, nurses must keep long COVID top of mind as they treat patients. Many patients with long COVID feel overlooked or dismissed. It’s important for healthcare professionals to remember that long COVID is a developing phenomenon and could be responsible for a number of seemingly unrelated symptoms. These patients will require support and treatment as they attempt to manage their condition day to day.
Nurses also need to consider long COVID when treating patients who might be seeking help for a different illness.
- Did those patients test positive for COVID-19 in the past?
- How long have their symptoms lasted?
- Could their current symptoms be the result of a compromised immune system from COVID-19?
The more we ask these questions and study the symptoms, the more healthcare professionals will be able to connect the dots to see the links between long COVID and new health problems.