COVID-19 has left an enduring mark on American life. Several months into the pandemic, it was clear that it wasn’t going away anytime soon. More than two years later, COVID is something we have to learn to live with, experts say. One aspect millions of people are learning to live with: Long-lasting symptoms. Estimates of how many people suffer from “long COVID” vary. One study found it may be larger than previously thought. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.

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A new study of early COVID patients has found that in one group of people who had COVID-19, more than half of them reported long COVID symptoms two years later.

In the research, published this month in Lancet Respiratory Medicine, scientists looked at more than 1,100 people in China who’d been hospitalized for COVID-19 in the first several months of the pandemic. They found that six months after their infection, 68% reported long COVID symptoms, and two years afterward, 55% did.

“This is incredibly troubling when we consider that long COVID affects not only hospitalized patients, but also non-hospitalized patients (who were not studied here),” Dr. David F. Putrino, associate professor of rehabilitation and human performance at Mount Sinai in New York, told Medical News Today. “This study should serve as a reminder that death is not the only serious consequence of an acute COVID-19 infection.”

Woman suffering from stomach cramps on the sofa at home.
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The most common long COVID symptoms were muscle weakness or fatigue, and sleep disturbances, which were reported by 31% of the study participants. The study also found that people in the group with long COVID symptoms were 62% more likely to experience mobility problems, more than four times more likely to have pain or discomfort, and more than seven times more likely to have anxiety or depression than people who haven’t had COVID.

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Long COVID (also known as PASC, for post-acute sequelae of COVID-19) is the umbrella term for a wide range of symptoms that can follow COVID-19 infection and endure for weeks or months after the infection has cleared. They include breathing problems, fatigue, and neurological issues like brain fog. They can vary from inconvenient to debilitating in severity.

It’s a significant issue. Aside from the Chinese study, other large studies indicate that 20 to 30 percent of people infected with COVID-19 will go on to develop long COVID. The General Accounting Office estimates that anywhere between 8 million and 23 million Americans have developed long COVID so far. 

Patients lying on hospital bed with mask, looking at lung x-ray film during doctor reading result and advice a treatment
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Although the Chinese study was related to one particular group early in the pandemic, a study released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided a new glimpse at long COVID’s effect in America.

According to CDC data through November 2021, one in five Americans aged 18 to 64 reported a later health condition that may be attributable to COVID-19. Among adults over 65, the number was one in four. The researchers also found that people who’ve had COVID have twice the risk of developing a pulmonary embolism [a blood clot in the lungs, which can be fatal] or respiratory conditions than people who contracted the virus.

“As the cumulative number of persons ever having been infected with SARS-CoV-2 increases, the number of survivors suffering post-COVID conditions is also likely to increase,” the researchers wrote. “Therefore, implementation of COVID-19 prevention strategies, as well as routine assessment for post-COVID conditions among persons who survive COVID-19, is critical to reducing the incidence and impact of post-COVID conditions, particularly among adults aged ≥65 years.”

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Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don’t travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin

Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more

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