The Problem of ‘Long Haul’ COVID

More and more patients are dealing with major symptoms that linger for months

Authors: By Carolyn Barber on December 29, 2020

It was just a couple of months into the pandemic when patients in online support groups began describing the phenomenon. In some emergency departments, they said, their complaints were largely being dismissed—or at the very least diminished—by health care professionals. The patients felt they were not being heard, or perhaps even were outright disbelieved.

The common thread through these comments was a basic one. Each of the patients had already been infected with COVID-19 and presumably had recovered, yet each was still dealing with symptoms of the disease—sometimes vague, sometimes nonspecific—that simply would not go away. Physicians and nurses, already overloaded with emergent cases of the virus, were baffled, often searching for other, more benign explanations for what they were being told.

We now have a term for those patients—and the truth is, “long hauler” only begins to describe the COVID-related ordeals they are enduring. Of all the facets of the virus we have dealt with in 2020, this one may ultimately prove the most difficult to recognize, much less combat.

Long-haul COVID patients carry their symptoms well beyond what we’ve come to understand as a “normal” course of recovery. It can last for weeks. For some long haulers, it has been months—and counting. And to the consternation of physicians and nurses on the front lines, the symptoms of these patients often present as so varied and relatively common that they defy a solid COVID-related diagnosis.

If a patient comes to the emergency department (E.D.) complaining of dizziness, forgetfulness and headache, for example, is that long-haul COVID or something else entirely? How about fatigue? A persistent cough? Muscle aches and insomnia? Relapsing fevers?

With little to go on, and lacking clinical guidance, some of us in the E.D. have instructed our patients to go home, get more rest, “try to relax.” We’ve offered reassurances that everything would be okay with more time, checked off the final diagnosis box for something like anxiety or chronic fatigue on our computers, and moved on to see our next patients.


But there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that a surprising number of people are, in fact, COVID long haulers, and that hospital emergency departments and clinics may be dealing with them for months and months to come.

For More Information: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-problem-of-long-haul-covid/

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