Every day, you hear more about how we’re closer to understanding how COVID-19 ravages the body. That’s partly because the more days that pass, the longer certain people remain damaged by the virus. Of COVID-19 patients who have required hospitalization, 45 percent will need ongoing medical care, 4 percent will require inpatient rehabilitation, and 1 percent will permanently require acute care, according to the UK National Health Service. Here are eight possible long-term health problems you can have as a result of COVID-19.
Experts suspect that pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred, may occur in patients suffering from severe COVID-19 infections as a result of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to conclusively make the connection.
However, the condition is characterized by “declining lung function, increasing extent of fibrosis on CT, worsening symptoms and quality of life, and early mortality,” according to a paper published in The Lancet, and “arises, with varying degrees of frequency, in the context of a number of conditions including IPF, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, autoimmune disease, and drug-induced interstitial lung disease.”
Due to the tendency of COVID-19 to cause blood clotting, some people—even young and middle-aged adults—are experiencing strokes. While it isn’t clear what long-term damage these virus-related strokes will cause, experts suspect long-term minor brain damage is possible.
Chronic Heart Damage
Though doctors aren’t exactly sure why, some COVID patients are experiencing heart damage. One small study published March 27 in JAMA Cardiology found that over one-fifth of patients developed heart damage as a result of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. Health experts believe it may have to do reduced oxygen as well as inflammation of the heart muscle.
A separate review published in JAMA Cardiology by the University of Texas Health Science Center found that some survivors of the virus suffered lingering cardiac damage. Those who had existing cardiovascular problems experienced more damage, which increased their risk for heart attack and stroke.
Small blood clots in the brain as a result of the virus can go undetected, and can be responsible for a type of dementia known as vascular dementia, which occurs over time. “We know that if someone has a stroke, it approximately doubles their risk of getting dementia later in life,” Dr. Marion Buckwalter, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Stanford University, told CNN. “[Our research group] discovered that people who had a more vigorous immune response by day two after stroke were more likely to have cognitive decline in the first year after stroke.”
Another potential long-term health issue that can be caused by COVID induced blood clots is pulmonary embolism. “A majority of venous blood clot forms in legs that locally may present itself as swelling of foot and leg (usually on one side). The blood clots in the leg may move and travel to the lungs causing pulmonary embolism that can be a fatal condition,” explains Hamid Mojibian, MD, a Yale Medicine interventional radiologist specializing in image-guided cardiac procedures.
He explains that COVID patients have a higher risk of forming arterial blood clots that can be extremely dangerous. “There have been reports of clots in the aorta, renal arteries (causes renal infarction), legs (causing black foot and gangrene), and the most devastating of all in the brain blood vessels causing a stroke.”
Some patients have been experiencing kidney failure, with their blood clots even clogging dialysis machines. While kidney injuries aren’t necessarily a death sentence, they can be permanent and require someone to undergo dialysis for the remainder of their life.
Loss of Limbs
Broadway star Nick Cordero was forced to have his leg amputated as a result of blood clots due to a severe COVID-19 infection. The actor suffered a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, which occurs when blood clots form in a limb.
Mental Health Issues
A new study courtesy of Yale School of Public Health published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that there may be lasting mental health damage as a result of COVID-19—for at least up to 12 years post pandemic—similar or even greater to what we have seen in previous disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Traumatic experiences similar to Katrina victims include bereavement, lack of access to medical care and scarcity of medications, while additional hardships of the virus include “widespread death and sickness, as well as job loss and severe economic hardship for many.”
“The current pandemic has placed people under an enormous amount of stress leading to symptoms including anxiety, exhaustion, frustration, irritability, low energy, anhedonia (reduced capacity to experience pleasure), insomnia, nightmares, intrusive thoughts about COVID, and guilt,” John Krystal, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale Medicine and Yale School of Medicine, tells Eat This, Not That! Health.
He explains that some people will experience stress related to their role in the healthcare workplace, while others will experience stress predominantly related to the tensions between their work life and their home life, particularly in the context of childcare or eldercare issues. For most people these symptoms constitute a temporary stress state that will resolve by itself once life returns to normal. However, “For others, persisting symptoms may reflect feelings of burnout or signs of depression or posttraumatic stress disorder.”
As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.