Study shows 1 in 3 COVID-19 survivors suffer long-haul symptoms

University Health
Posted at 6:33 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 19:33:49-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — New research shows more about the long-term effects of COVID-19 and how common long-hauler cases are.

A recent study found out of more than 270,000 people recovering from COVID-19, one in three had lingering symptoms months later.

The study found 9 "core features" of long COVID:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Fatigue
  • Chest/throat pain
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Myalgia
  • Other pain
  • Cognitive Symptoms
  • Anxiety/Depression

The data is relieving to local long-haulers like Blue Springs resident Sparkle Thomas, who said it's nice to know she's not alone.

"Now that research is coming out to really support what we’ve been dealing with silently for over a year is really great," Thomas said.

For Thomas, contracting COVID-19 in July 2020 was already a miserable experience.

"I was sick for fifteen days straight," Thomas said. "I could barely take my head off the pillow, I had the worst body aches I’ve ever experienced in my life."

Even after recovering, Thomas continued having brain fog and difficulty breathing months later.

"Some nights I was like 'OK Lord I don’t know if I’m going to wake up in the morning,' that’s how bad my breathing was," Thomas said.

Thomas said it was difficult to get answers from her primary care provider in the beginning considering the many unknowns about COVID-19.

She began seeking treatment at the Truman Medical Centers/University Health long-hauler clinic in May.

"I've been through pulmonary testing, through cardiology testing because my heart was palpitating," Thomas said.

She's also been diagnosed with asthma.

Thomas said she's finally starting to see improvements.

"Finally a little over a year after my first diagnosis I’m finally starting to feel a little better, getting my breathing under control, I can breathe and not feel like I’m about to die," Thomas said.

Health care workers have seen about 200 patients at the clinic since it opened in late Spring.

Nurse practitioner Wes Stroust said while symptoms range, the most common are fatigue, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, headache and cough.

Stroust said specialists try to do treatments based on individual symptoms, but it can be complicated considering the unknowns about what causes long-COVID.

"A lot of patients who we are not able to find any objective findings, anything specifically in the physical exam or lab results or imaging that points toward one cause or the other, they can benefit from exercise rehab programs and cognitive behavioral therapy," Stroust said.

Stroust said he's currently seeing a lot of patients who had COVID-19 in December 2020.

"I do anticipate in the next few months we will be seeing those people who were part of the big spike over the Summer as they figure out that their symptoms have not resolved," Stoust said.

Currently, patients must have a positive COVID-19 test and have had symptoms for more than three months to be seen at the clinic.

"I hope that if we have increased capacity to see these patients that we can lower those thresholds because I know especially for somebody who is trying to return to work or school three months is a long time to wait," Stroust said.

Stroust said the risk of having long-haul COVID symptoms stresses the importance of getting vaccinated.

"Getting vaccinated does reduce your chance of having chronic symptoms after COVID-19 by about 1/2 it seems like," Stroust said.

For Thomas, having a place where her symptoms are validated means the world.

"You know a lot of it is also mental, you’ve never dealt with any of these health issues so you’re like am I crazy, is this really happening," Thomas said.

Thomas hopes others will get vaccinated to avoid the long COVID experience she's had.

"I got vaccinated for my peace of mind to know that I am doing what I can to stop the spread and also to stay healthy myself," Thomas said.