6 potential long-term side effects of COVID-19

Researchers "don't yet fully appreciate" what happens after a patient recovers from a serious case of COVID-19, said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as reported by CNN.

"We don't know the extent of full recovery or partial recovery, so there's a lot we need to learn," Dr. Fauci said at the BIO International Convention in June.

Around 10 percent of the 3.9 million people in the United Kingdom contributing to the COVID Symptom Study app have reported effects lasting more than four weeks.  

While experts are uncertain what all the long-term effects of COVID-19 are, Becker's has compiled a list of what we know so far.

This is not an exhaustive list. 

1. Psychological problems  

COVID-19 patients may experience psychiatric issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, cognitive impairment and anxiety due to the trauma of the illness and treatment, said Christian Bime, MD, medical director of the intensive care unit at Banner University Medical Center Tucson (Ariz.).

Dr. Piero Clavario, director of a post-COVID rehabilitation center in Italy, said his team contacted 55 COVID-19 survivors treated by hospitals in May, CNN reports. Fifty percent of the individuals reported psychological problems, according to Dr. Clavario. Only eight individuals didn't require follow-up support or report any complications.

2. Muscle weakness

"What surprises me the most is that even the patients that have not spent any time in the ICU are extremely feeble: there is no evidence of a cardiological or pulmonary problem, but they are not even able to walk up a flight of stairs," Dr. Clavario told CNN. "Most show a serious muscle weakness." Dr. Clavario said most individuals were able to recover after exercising regularly. 

3. Long-term fatigue 

Overwhelming fatigue, classified as fatigue lasting more than six weeks, has been reported by many individuals recovering from COVID-19, according to data from the COVID Symptom Study app.

4. Acute respiratory distress syndrome 

The virus can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome, which can lead to limited lung capacity, kidney complications, and poor conditioning due to limited lung and/or organ function, Dr. Bime explained. Damage to lung tissue can result in scarring, which can decrease lung function even after the initial damage has passed, though Dr. Bime did note that scarring can partially heal.

5. Pneumonia-induced lung injury

The pneumonia that COVID-19 causes tends to affect both lungs, said Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, expert on lung disease at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. While most people recover from pneumonia without lasting lung damage, the pneumonia associated with COVID-19 may be severe and lung injury may result in breathing difficulties, Dr. Galiatsatos said.

6. Loss of smell, taste  

It's not uncommon for patients with viral upper respiratory infections to experience temporary, or sometimes permanent, loss of taste or smell, said Justin Turner, MD, PhD, associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and medical director of Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Smell and Taste Center.

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