What is long COVID? Symptoms, diagnosis & treatment

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Long COVID can be bewildering, with signs that vary from persistent tiredness to shortness of breath and concentration difficulties. There's no simple diagnosis nor simple treat­ment. However, there are ways to find improvement and support through approved treatments paid for by CSS.

What is long COVID?

Long COVID, also known as chronic COVID or post-COVID-19 syndrome, refers to the lingering health issues some individuals experience after a Sars-CoV-2 infection. Long COVID is diagnosed when symptoms persist for months, even long after the virus is no longer detectable. It can lead to various conditions, including cardiovascular problems, lung function impairments and nervous system disorders.

How is long COVID diagnosed?

Diagnosing long COVID is often challenging. The symptoms vary widely, resembling many others and encompassing a broad range. Signs include:

  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • pain
  • concentration difficulties
  • forgetfulness – also known as brain fog

There is still no test that can directly identify long COVID. Researchers are actively working on developing laboratory and blood tests specifically designed to improve our understanding and diagnosis of long COVID.

Long COVID or burnout?

The symptoms of burnout can be similar to those of long COVID, but the cause of burnout is different. It’s important to have a doctor clarify your condition on the basis of your medical history.

How common is long COVID?

Estimates of how many people in Switzerland have long COVID vary widely. Milo Puhan, a leading epidemiologist and long COVID expert at the University of Zurich, says, “It’s very difficult to estimate how many people have the condition today.” The good news: “The majority of respondents only display mild symptoms.”

What are the causes of long COVID?

The exact causes of long COVID are not yet fully understood. Experts suspect a combination of factors: a persistent immune response, viral reservoirs, or inflammatory processes in the body. Research continues to be conducted in order to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the prolonged symptoms.

What are the risk factors for long COVID?

The risk for developing long COVID is greater among elderly people, people with asthma or weakened immune systems, and those who had a bad case of COVID-19. However, long COVID is a condition that can affect anyone. Even young, healthy and high-performing people may be affected. It’s therefore important to take preventive action to minimise the risk.

How can I avoid long COVID?

According to a recent Swedish study and the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), the best protection from long COVID comes from full vaccination, a healthy lifestyle and adhering to established COVID-19 preventive measures. Currently, there is no specific medication for long COVID.

If you have long COVID, it’s important to ensure that you return to your everyday routine gradually and in accordance with your abilities – which may not always live up to your previous pace of life.

What effect does a healthy lifestyle have on long COVID?

A healthy lifestyle, marked by a balanced diet, regular exercise and sufficient sleep, supports the immune system and can have a beneficial impact on the course of long COVID. However, these particular measures can be especially challenging for long COVID sufferers.

Can children also have long COVID?

While children can be affected by long COVID, current knowledge suggests that it's less common among children than adults. Long COVID Kids Switzerland is an association that acts as a helpful resource for children with the condition and their families.

What support does CSS offer long COVID patients?

CSS will assist you by covering costs for approved therapies and offering personalised counselling and support along your recovery journey. Patients with acute symptoms or who have experienced a severe change or deterioration in their overall health are advised to see a doctor without delay. But for patients whose health is stable, the CSS Health Coaches can offer support.

What are the treatment options for long COVID?

Treatment for long COVID is tailored to the individual according to their predominant symptoms. Physiotherapy is often used to manage fatigue and physical weakness. Breathing therapies are also practised, especially when shortness of breath is a concern. In some cases, medication may help to alleviate symptoms. On top of this, psychological support and occupational therapy are essential aspects when it comes to helping patients better manage their everyday lives. The goal is always to improve patients’ quality of life and facilitate their return to normality.

What are the chances of recovery?

People with long COVID experience different recovery trajectories depending on various personal and medical factors. These include the severity of the initial illness, the parts of the body affected and individual circumstances such as age and pre-existing conditions. Many report a gradual improvement in their symptoms, while some may take longer to recover. Medical research in the field continues to work on improving treatment approaches that will increase the chances of recovery.

A common symptom of long COVID

Fatigue

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), fatigue, or chronic tiredness, is one of the most common symptoms associated with long COVID. Many people with long COVID suffer from extreme exhaustion that isn't relieved by rest or sleep and can severely impair their daily functioning: It can be so severe that they are no longer able to work.

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Where can I get help if I suspect long COVID?

If you think you may have long COVID, it’s essential to get medical advice. Anyone suffering from long COVID-19 should be diagnosed quickly and receive the best possible care. To enable a more detailed diagnosis and treatment of long COVID-19 the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has published an overview of specialist consulting sessions, therapy and rehabilitation services on its website. Updated information and medical advice on long COVID can also be found on altea, a long COVID network and meeting place for patients, relatives, medical professionals, researchers and other interested parties.

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