Many patients with COVID-19 continue to experience symptoms months after they have overcome most of the illness, and doctors still do not know how to predict who may be affected by long-term symptoms.
A recent large-scale study from China found that 75% of patients who were sick enough to be hospitalized still had at least one COVID-19 symptom six months later.
But Dr. Lekshmi Santhosh, founder and physician faculty lead of the multidisciplinary post-COVID OPTIMAL Clinic at UCSF Health said that patients with both mild and severe illnesses can develop long-term symptoms.
"We’ve all seen both ends of the spectrum," she said. "We can’t currently predict who is going to recover quickly and who is going to have a more protracted course… there’s not a lot of way to predict how people’s bodies will react."
Some of the common long-term symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain, and it does not seem to correlate with a patient’s level of health or fitness before contracting COVID-19.
"The bottom line is, what can you do? One is prevention. That is something that we could all do. Wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid crowds, particularly indoors," Dr. Santhosh told KCBS Radio's "Ask An Expert." The best way to avoid becoming a long-hauler is to take precautions to avoid becoming infected with the virus at all.
"The second thing is, if you do get sick with the coronavirus or if you do test positive, ask your doctor about if you might need extra therapies."
Dr. Santhosh explained that depending on a patient’s symptoms, there are treatments that can help them recover from the disease more quickly. For example, people who have mild cases but still need oxygen therapy have been shown to benefit from steroids. Outpatients may benefit from antibody or infusion therapy early in the course of the disease.
"We do have a better range of therapies than we did a few months ago," she said. "Listen to your body, listen to your symptoms and don’t delay going to the hospital."