If you’ve had new or lasting symptoms since recovering from COVID-19, you may have long-term COVID-19, or "long COVID." It can include a range of symptoms that continue after your COVID-19 illness ends.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found that more than 15% of people in the U.S. have had long-term COVID-19. And those with a disability — such as asthma, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or diabetes1 — were twice as likely to report having had long COVID than those without.2
How do you know if you have long-term COVID-19?
Long-term COVID-19 symptoms can vary. They can range from mild to severe and affect many areas of the body. Symptoms may come and go — they can last for a few weeks or months, or even years.
The virus was only found in the last few years. We’re still learning about all the symptoms, who’s more likely to get them, and how long they’ll last.
"Gathering a complete list of all symptoms can be difficult," says Paul Thottingal, MD, a national infectious disease leader for Kaiser Permanente. "We are still learning about the long-term risks. But we do know people can have long-term COVID-19 symptoms regardless of age, initial symptoms of illness, or co-occurring illnesses."
What are the symptoms of long-term COVID-19?
The most commonly reported symptoms of long-term COVID include:3
- Trouble focusing (also known as "brain fog")
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Heart palpitations (rapid heartbeat)
But your symptoms may depend on health problems you’ve had in the past. For example, if you’ve had depression, anxiety, or other mental or emotional issues, long-term COVID-19 can make them worse.
Other long COVID-19 symptoms can include:4
- Brain health: Memory loss, forgetfulness, and feeling light-headed
- Lung and heart health: Shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain
- Movement: General weakness, poor mobility, and difficulty exercising
- Mental health: Anxiety, trouble sleeping, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Other symptoms: menstrual cycle changes and skin rashes
If you’ve already had COVID-19 and have any of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor. They can recommend medical treatment, self-care, counseling, physical therapy, or a combination of treatments.
Should I still get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect yourself against COVID-19.
"Vaccines are the single most important measure for limiting or preventing moderate to severe illness," says Dr. Thottingal.
And receiving more than one vaccine dose can help your body build up immunity against future COVID-19 variants.
"The effectiveness of a single vaccine dose wanes over time. But you build up immunity against future variants in the long run if you’ve had multiple vaccines." We don’t yet know if COVID-19 will follow the same seasonal pattern as the flu. But we do know that both the flu and COVID-19 viruses evolve each year.
"There are several related COVID variants that could be dominant in the coming year. So the next COVID-19 vaccine will be updated to fight the current variants that are circulating — similar to how the flu vaccine is updated every year," says Dr. Thottingal.
What are other ways I can prevent COVID-19?
In addition to getting vaccinated, there are other steps you can take to avoid COVID-19. Even if it’s not required, wearing a mask in certain settings is a good way to stop the spread.
"Masking in every indoor setting, and limiting indoor activity in large groups, heavily reduced transmission of COVID-19 as well as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu, and the common cold," adds Dr. Thottingal. "It’s highly effective, particularly along with hand-washing and vaccination."
So remember to wash your hands, get vaccinated, consider wearing a mask in public spaces, and keep your immune system strong. You can do this by getting enough sleep, staying active, and eating healthy. For added protection, be sure to get your flu shot.
Learn more about common respiratory viruses
You can protect yourself from respiratory infections like the flu and COVID-19 by getting vaccinated as early as possible. It’s particularly important if you’re immunocompromised or over the age of 65. Play it safe this season — find out more about common viruses like COVID-19, RSV, and the flu.