The persistence and impact of health problems some people experience months after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 are not fully understood, but they are manageable and some may resolve on their own, doctors said Thursday in a Newsday webinar.
Known by a variety of names including long-haul COVID and post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, the condition may manifest in a range of ongoing or new symptoms, even if the initial illness was mild. The Centers for Disease Control lists 18 commonly reported in combination, from shortness of breath to changes in menstrual cycles.
The clinical response is still evolving but involves analysis of the symptoms, long-term study and coordination of care, said doctors Sritha Rajupet, primary care lead at Stony Brook Medicine’s Post-COVID Clinic, and Nancy LaVine, director of Northwell Health’s ambulatory clinical programs.
“How can we support you while we take the time to identify which symptoms we can help you with?” is a start, said LaVine. “We make sure you’re sleeping well, eating well, that you exercise and control any underlying conditions.”
Behavioral health specialists and therapists may be part of a patient’s medical team with doctors focused on physical symptoms.
Some of the clinical work involves the plodding process of medical investigation, said Rajupet. “The goal is to break down those symptoms, deal with them one by one and look for causes,” she said.
A seemingly “out of the blue” onset of diabetes in a young, post-COVID-19 patient could be explained by well-known risk factors such as family history, diet and weight, she said, though she acknowledged the difficulty of treating some long-haul symptoms that may have multiple causes.
A symptom like a difficulty thinking or concentrating, sometimes known as brain fog, is tied in scientific literature to prolonged stays in intensive care, as some COVID-19 patients may have endured. It can also be related to depression, fatigue and anxiety, she said. But a “reservoir” of virus remaining in some patients’ bodies even after initial coronavirus symptoms have subsided may also play a role.
Her clinic hosts a weekly online support group for long-haulers, Rajupet said. Written questions from Newsday readers, who were not identified by their full names, suggested such groups may address a dire need.
One man said that after a 2020 COVID-19 diagnosis his wife had experienced numbness and pain, and that her “mind is not the way it was.”
Another reader issued more of a cry for help than a question: “My life has been destroyed by COVID. I have no short term memory” and suffer symptoms including chronic fatigue and shortness of breath. “I am giving up hope.”
LaVine offered comfort but no promise of relief. “This is a disease process we are, in a way, learning about together,” she said. “It can be very challenging for patients because sometimes there is no clear-cut answer.”
- Northwell’s CARES Program (COVID Ambulatory Resource Support): https://www.northwell.edu/coronavirus-covid-19/cares-program. To schedule CARES consultation visits with Northwell specialists with experience in post-COVID care — 855-569-4227
- Stony Brook Medicine Post-COVID Clinic in Commack: https://www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/advancedspecialtycare/post_COVID_clinic. The phone number is: (631) 638-0597