Long Covid: recognising and treating symptoms
Long Covid has a range of indications. This is precisely why it's so difficult to diagnose. Key questions and answers at a glance.
What is long Covid?
Long Covid is the name for long-term consequences resulting from a former infection with Covid-19 and which can't be explained by another disease. It is usually referred to as long Covid after a period of 12 weeks subsequent to the infection.
What are the indications of long Covid and how is it diagnosed?
Certain symptoms appear from the beginning, others only weeks later. Shortness of breath and difficulties after physical exertion, for example, are often not noticed until later.
In order to measure which symptom is the most severe for the patient and which key symptoms are also occurring, doctors use diagnostic methods that include:
X-ray, ultrasound, CT or MRI: to identify changes such as inflammation or scarring in the lungs or heart.
Lung performance tests: to determine lung function, volume and performance.
Blood tests: to measure inflammatory markers, thyroid hormones, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and heart rate.
PCR, antigen, antibody tests: a PCR test is standard practice in the acute phase of the infection. Since the test is no longer 100% conclusive in the period immediately after a suspected infection nor weeks later either, it should ideally be carried out around the 8th day after the suspected infection.
PCR, antigen and antibody tests are often no longer a conclusive means of diagnosing long Covid and therefore not a decisive factor in determining the patient's treatment.
What makes it so difficult to diagnose long Covid?
Diagnosing long Covid is complex because symptoms vary from person to person, change over time, and may not appear until weeks or months later. It is often difficult to link the symptoms with the Covid disease. We speak of long Covid when typical symptoms such as exhaustion, pain in the limbs, shortness of breath during physical exertion, or concentration problems last longer than 2 months.
Where can I get help?
If you have acute symptoms or notice a severe change or deterioration in your general condition, consult a doctor immediately. If your state of health is stable, our health coaches offer the following support:
- Advice on services potentially useful to you, such as online sleep training
- Assistance on insurance-related issues such as how to get a physiotherapist referral, or which doctor or therapist is best suited to your needs
- 1:1 coaching on relaxation, regeneration, breathing techniques and ways of dealing with the challenges posed by long Covid
What are the treatment options for long Covid?
Up to now, symptoms or affected organ systems have mainly been treated medically, therapeutically (with physiotherapy or respiratory therapy, for example) or using alternative medicine. So far, no scientific evidence and no uniform treatment scheme exists to lead to a specific form of therapy. It is therefore particularly important to recognise each patient’s individual symptoms.
Alternative medicine treatments
Some patients find relief from their symptoms and report positive experiences from alternative medicine treatments such as homeopathy, phytotherapy, acupuncture, etc. However, severe symptoms should be assessed by a conventional medical doctor.
What are the chances of recovery?
The vast majority of patients find that their health improves after a certain time – but the time frame varies greatly. Whether the disease leaves permanent damage has yet to be clarified.
Can I prevent long Covid?
You’ve taken precautions to ward off Covid-19 but suddenly find yourself infected. To prevent long-term effects, it’s important to treat the acute infection properly. Afterwards, take it slowly when returning to your daily activities: try to avoid psychological as well as physical stress situations and identify any added complaints as soon as they arise. All forms of physical and mental exertion should be delayed until complete recovery.
What effect does exercise have on long Covid?
If moderate exercise is possible, it can have a beneficial effect on the treatment of long Covid symptoms. However, when returning to more intensive exercise, four points are important and need to be discussed with your therapist:
- Define your personal limits
- Keep strictly to breaks
- Fit your exercise plan into your daily routine
- Record the process
Fatigue is a very common symptom in people with long Covid and has a huge impact on their daily lives. A follow-up study showed that of 1,655 Covid patients, 63% were still suffering from fatigue or muscle weakness 6 months later. Fatigue also occurs as a symptom in mild cases of Covid and is seen across all age groups – although female patients are affected slightly more often.
Which risk factors influence long Covid?
Various studies, including one published recently, have examined the risk factors of long Covid, but none have come up with conclusive findings to date. However, long Covid also seems to affect people in excellent physical shape and without underlying conditions who had no – or only mild – symptoms during the infection. When treating Covid in hospital, doctors try to prevent long-term consequences. However, conclusive data on prevention has yet to be found. The medical measures taken by doctors can therefore reduce organ damage, but not always prevent it entirely.
Do children get long Covid?
In Switzerland, between 5,000 and 10,000 children under the age of 12 have already been affected by long Covid. The risk of adolescents developing long Covid is almost as high as it is for adults. Long Covid Kids Switzerland estimate that at least 45,000 children and adolescents in Switzerland have been affected by long Covid.
Does the vaccination help prevent long Covid?
Long Covid can only develop from an actual infection with Covid-19. According to a British study, a vaccination seems to reduce the probability of long Covid. However, studies have not yet been able to deliver any firm conclusions on the subject.