Although Covid-19 is now less reported on and life has slowly been returning to normal, some people are still suffering long-term effects from the virus. ‘Long Covid’ isn’t something that’s talked about often, but it can have a debilitating effect on people’s lives.

If this sounds familiar, then it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Earlier this year, a UK survey found that 1.3 million people in the UK have long Covid symptoms, lasting more than four weeks after an initial infection.

So what exactly is long covid, and how can it be treated? Below, we’ll take a closer look.

What is long Covid?

What is long Covid

People recover from Covid-19 at different rates. Some people have no symptoms at all, others feel better after a few days or weeks, and most will be fully recovered within 12 weeks. However, for some people, the effects can go on for longer.

How ill you are with the initial Covid-19 infection won’t necessarily determine whether or not you experience symptoms long-term. People who weren’t very ill in the first place can still have lingering problems – and the reason for this is currently unknown.

What are the symptoms of long Covid?

What are the symptoms of long Covid
One of the challenges with long Covid is diagnosing it, as there’s not yet an internationally-agreed definition or specific test. Symptoms can also be wide-ranging and may be mistaken for other conditions. According to the NHS, symptoms of long Covid can include:
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Shortness of breath, chest pain, or tightness
  • Problems with memory or concentration (sometimes referred to as ‘brain fog’)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Joint pain and/or pins and needles
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tinnitus and/or earaches
  • Nausea, sickness, diarrhoea, stomach pain, loss of appetite
  • A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to smell and taste
  • Rashes

How is long Covid diagnosed and treated?

As it stands, there isn’t one single test to determine whether a person has long Covid, and the condition isn’t yet fully understood.

So, for now, healthcare professionals are referring to NICE guidelines when making a diagnosis. These describe long Covid as symptoms that continue for 12 weeks after a Covid-19 infection that can’t be explained by another cause.

Therefore, people suspected of having long Covid will usually be checked for other health conditions – such as thyroid function, diabetes, and iron deficiency – before a diagnosis is given.

Though this might sound like a lengthy process, the good news is that researchers are currently looking for new, quicker ways to diagnose long Covid, so a simple blood test might be available in future.

If you think you might be experiencing long-term Covid-19 symptoms, then it’s important to speak to your GP. Though there’s no specific test for long Covid, your GP will be able to assess your symptoms and the impact they’re having on your quality of life.

Blood tests, chest x-rays, blood pressure, and heart rate checks might be some of the tests that your doctor suggests to find out more about what’s going on.

From here, they’ll talk to you about ways to monitor and manage your symptoms, and you may be referred to a long Covid assessment centre where you’ll be looked after and supported.

Can the Covid-19 vaccine help to prevent long Covid or improve symptoms?

The Covid-19 vaccine can help to prevent you from contracting the virus in the first place.

But there’s also some evidence to suggest that it can also help to prevent people from developing long Covid if they do catch the virus.

Tips for managing long Covid symptoms

Tips for managing long Covid symptoms
If you think you might be suffering from long Covid symptoms, then as well as speaking to your GP, the following tips may also help…
  • Remember that a negative Covid-19 test doesn’t rule out the possibility of long Covid. You can have long Covid symptoms even if you never had a positive test during the initial infection; either due to a false negative or not being able to get hold of a test at the time.
  • If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, then it’s important to pace yourself – but not to completely stop doing the things that cause you to breathe harder. This is because respiratory muscles that aren’t exercised will only get weaker, causing you to become even more breathless when you try to use them.
  • If you’re fatigued and certain activities feel too overwhelming, try to break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. When exercising, it can also help to start slow and gradually increase the amount you do. For example, you could try going for short walks or trying other low-impact activities, such as swimming and yoga.
  • Try to stay connected to those around you and let them know how you’re feeling, as they might be able to help – plus having your loved ones close can also be a great mood booster.
Be kind to yourself
  • Be kind to yourself. It can be easy to get frustrated if you can no longer do some of the things you used to, but it’s important to give yourself time to recover. Some days will also be worse than others. So on particularly bad days, try to rest and remember that tomorrow could be better.
  • If you’re struggling with memory and concentration then it can help to use post-it notes or notifications on your phone to remind you of important things, like work tasks or medical appointments. There are also plenty of other helpful tips in our article; 7 ways to improve your focus.
  • Flexibility and strength exercises can be useful for sore joints or muscles, though it’s important to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime. For ideas on what that regime might look like, check out our articles; The importance of building strength and balance in your 50s and 60s and 6 tips for improving and maintaining flexibility as we age.
  • If you’re struggling with insomnia, this can be incredibly frustrating, but there are some things you can do that might help. The sleep and fatigue section of our site has plenty of tips on everything from how to create the perfect environment for sleep to what the best and worst sleeping positions are.

Additional support if you have long Covid

If long Covid symptoms are affecting you or someone you know, and you’d like some further help and support, then it’s worth having a look at the following resources…
  • Your COVID Recovery – an NHS website designed to help people recovering from Covid-19 and their families come to terms with the impact that the virus had on their minds and bodies. It also helps people understand what to expect as part of their recovery. 
  • GOV.UK – Find support if you have long COVID – information and advice on what to do if you have long Covid and are unable to work, need help to find, return to, or stay in work, or have a child with long Covid.
  • Acas – Long COVID – advice for employers and employees – tips on how employers can support employees who have long Covid.
  • Long Covid Support – a charitable company formed by a group of people who were struggling to recover from Covid and found each other online. They’ve since been organising international support groups and campaigning in the UK for recognition, rehabilitation, and research into treatments.

Final thoughts…

Now that life is moving on again after Covid-19, it’s easy to feel left behind if you’re still suffering from long Covid symptoms. But, it’s important not to struggle in silence and to speak to your GP.

With more than 60 long Covid assessment centres now in operation around the country and research into long Covid ongoing, long Covid is now a widely recognised medical condition. So, although it’s still not yet fully understood, treatment and diagnosis are hopefully set to improve.