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What is long COVID?

The phrase ‘long COVID’ has become increasingly common over the last year, especially within the U.S. and UK. But what exactly is it? Let’s deep dive into it. 

So, what is it exactly? 

While there is no set definition of long COVID, Professor Gail Matthews from the University of New South Wales described it as “generally, long COVID refers to people who don’t recover from the acute COVID-19 infection and go on to have longer-term symptoms”. There is no set ‘test’ for long COVID, meaning doctors are generally identifying it through symptoms linked to COVID, which can’t be explained by another cause. 

Specifically in the UK, the guidance around long COVID is described as symptoms continuing for more than 12 weeks after an infection, with no other cause for the symptoms. 

It’s important to recognise, there is still a lot yet to be understood around long COVID (and even around COVID-19 in general). The U.S. last week started a $US470 million study to further investigate long COVID and its side effects. Speaking on researching long COVID, U.S. National Institute of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said, “is it a misfiring of the immune system that fails to reset after the infection with this coronavirus? Is it a triggering of some metabolic dysfunction? We don’t know. The diversity of symptoms and presentations leads us to believe that long Covid is not just one condition”.   

What are some of the symptoms of long COVID?  

Common symptoms include: 

  • Tiredness  
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Racing heart 
  • Chest pains 
  • Brain fog 
  • Headaches

While there are a variety of theories, it still remains unclear what exactly causes long COVID and why some patients are not able to get rid of symptoms. It also remains unclear how long symptoms of ‘long COVID’ could last for, but it is known that some sufferers can experience side effects for five months or more. If you want to read an Australian story of a young person with long COVID, click here.

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