For those who test positive for COVID-19 and experience symptoms, what signs should you watch for and how long could they last?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus. You can end isolation after five full days if you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and your other symptoms have improved.
The CDC says most people with COVID-19 "get better within a few days to a few weeks after infection."
According to the CDC, the most common long symptoms include:
- Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
- Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
Respiratory and heart symptoms
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
- Sleep problems
- Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
- Pins-and-needles feelings
- Change in smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Stomach pain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Changes in menstrual cycles
For some, certain symptoms may last even longer.
"Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems," the CDC states. "These conditions can last weeks, months, or years."
A recent study from Northwestern Medicine showed that many so-called COVID "long-haulers" continue to experience symptoms including brain fog, tingling, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus and fatigue an average of 15 months after the onset of the virus.
"Long-haulers,” are defined as individuals who have had COVID symptoms for six or more weeks, the hospital system has said.
But, according to the CDC, four weeks after infection is when post-COVID conditions could first be identified.
"Most people with post-COVID conditions experienced symptoms days after their SARS CoV-2 infection when they knew they had COVID-19, but some people with post-COVID conditions did not notice when they first had an infection," the CDC states.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady also warned last week that people should not "try to 'get COVID to get it over with'" in part because of the risk of long COVID symptoms.
"We are hearing people trying to do that. This does nothing to help us get over COVID as a city," she said. "It also is potentially dangerous given that we don't always know who is likely to have more severe outcomes, and there are people who get long COVID. Don't think that getting COVID means you'll never get COVID again. We see plenty of people get re-infected with COVID. The vaccine is the most important thing for protection."
Long-COVID symptoms can range from a wide variety of ailments, some of which may even disappear and then return later.
"Post-COVID conditions may not affect everyone the same way. People with post-COVID conditions may experience health problems from different types and combinations of symptoms happening over different lengths of time," the CDC reports. "Most patients’ symptoms slowly improve with time. However, for some people, post-COVID conditions may last months, and potentially years, after COVID-19 illness and may sometimes result in disability."
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