Millions of people who have had COVID-19 find themselves suffering from a host of debilitating symptoms that can persist for weeks or even months after their initial coronavirus infection fades.
This phenomenon, dubbed long COVID, has puzzled experts since near the start of the pandemic. And while research is starting to shore up some answers, Greg Vanichkachorn with Mayo Clinic says, “we don’t really have [long COVID] nailed down yet.” A big reason is because “it looks like more and more symptoms can be associated with this condition,” says Vanichkachorn, M.D., an occupational and aerospace medicine specialist and medical director of Mayo Clinic’s COVID Activity Rehabilitation Program.
In fact, the list of the most commonly reported long COVID symptoms maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) includes nearly 20, ranging from neurological complications to digestive disorders. Some studies have uncovered more than 50 long-term effects of COVID-19, adding issues such as hair loss and vision loss to the mix. Others estimate that number is much higher — closer to 200.
Still, some of these symptoms seem to be more prevalent.
New research published May 25, 2023 in JAMA identified 12 symptoms that most set apart people with and without long COVID. They are:
- Post-exertional malaise, or the worsening of symptoms following physical or mental exertion — even minor effort.
- Brain fog
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Heart palpitations
- Issues with sexual desire or capacity
- Loss of smell or taste
- Chronic cough
- Chest pain
- Abnormal movements
Vanichkachorn says fatigue is the most common complaint that he sees among his long COVID patients. “And that’s often coupled with some breathing problems, either coughing or shortness of breath,” he adds. Almost equal to that are patients coming in with neurological issues — headaches, tingling or numbness in the arms and legs, ringing in the ears, changes in their vision, “as well as a lot of trouble with thinking,” Vanichkachorn says.