Dear Doctors: How long does COVID-19 last? I got sick with it, and it was like a bad flu, but I didn’t need to see a doctor. It’s been more than a month since I tested negative, but I still don’t feel well. I tire easily, and I just don’t feel right. Do you think this is long COVID? Should I go see my doctor now?
Dear Reader: We’ve heard from a number of readers who, like you, are struggling as they recover from COVID-19. The trajectory is as you have described -- mild or moderate illness followed by a recovery that doesn’t follow the familiar arc of recuperating from a cold or the flu.
It has become clear, in three years of dealing with COVID-19, that the infection affects everyone differently. This includes the severity of the initial illness, the specific symptoms that someone may develop and the way in which they recover.
When COVID-19 is not severe, the illness can take several weeks to run its course. Some people bounce back immediately. But for others, some symptoms drag on. These often include fatigue, brain fog, heart arrhythmia, lack of stamina, headache, body aches and breathing issues. This has come to be known as long COVID.
But as more people contract and survive COVID-19, a clearer picture of how people recover from the illness has begun to emerge. As a result, a new term -- “medium COVID” -- is beginning to enter the conversation. It’s being used to describe the first two to three months of a protracted post-COVID recovery.
It’s impossible to predict whether lingering symptoms will persist for weeks, months or even longer. That makes it important to let your health care provider know what is happening, So, yes, do make an appointment to see your doctor.
It’s also important to prepare for the appointment. Write down a concise history of your experience with COVID. This includes the date you tested positive, the symptoms you experienced while you were ill and the date you tested negative. Also include any medications you may have used while you were sick. Create a separate list of the symptoms that continue to persist and when they occur. If some are worse than others, put those at the top of the list. Explain how they affect your daily life, and if certain activities, situations or times of day make them worse. If you have undergone any tests related to post-COVID symptoms, let your doctor know, as these can be helpful.
If you are allowed to bring someone to your appointment, consider asking a family member or friend to join you. They can help you record the information your doctor gives you. This includes prescribing medications and how to use them, recommending certain types of therapy and requesting additional screenings or tests. A companion can also help you to further process the information after the appointment is over. This can be particularly helpful when exhaustion or brain fog are among the post-COVID symptoms that are affecting your life.
While there isn’t a cure for lingering COVID, it’s possible that some of the symptoms can be managed.
(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)