Long Covid Cases Are Rising, And Doctors Are Still Struggling To Answer Questions

February 10, 2023

Covid has already affected more than 600 million people. Fortunately, more than 99% have made a recovery from acute illness. Unfortunately, however, a considerable number of people failed to make a complete recovery. An estimated 10-20% who had Covid infection continue to experience fatigue, lack of mental focus, body aches, and other symptoms. It is a condition called long Covid. What is worrisome is that doctors still lack an understanding of long Covid. Despite this, there are treatment options available, including physical therapy and medications, as well as interventional procedures such as complex regional pain syndrome treatment.

The covid pandemic is still ongoing. It has affected more than 600 million adults and resulted in more than 6.5 million fatalities. Those are massive numbers. However, what is worrisome is that though more than 99% have made a complete recovery, they are still not feeling well. Many are still living with constant fatigue, lack of focus, and other health problems. Something doctors are now calling long Covid.

The number of people living with long Covid is massive. The WHO estimates that anywhere between 10-20% of those affected by the coronavirus infection are living with long covid. These individuals feel fatigued, lack focus, are anxious, and often lack mental clarity. Many may also report body aches. For many, the condition is so debilitating that they have to leave their jobs and stay at home.

One of the biggest challenges that doctors face is that they know very little about the condition. They do not understand why post-Covid syndrome lasts so long in some individuals. They feel helpless as they do not have answers to many questions. Most lab tests are close to normal in people living with long Covid and chronic pain. Thus, lab diagnostics aren’t of much value in the condition.

However, long Covid cannot be neglected. One cannot say that it is merely a psychological issue in some. Observations show that long Covid must be taken seriously. Many people are living with long Covid experience exacerbation of various health disorders.

Clinical studies now also confirm that long Covid must be taken seriously, as people living with the condition are more likely to die prematurely. Studies suggest that the risk of premature death in those living with long Covid is almost twice higher than those who made a complete recovery. This is a significant difference3.

Millions continue to suffer in silence

There are multiple reasons why doctors find it so challenging to diagnose the condition. Not only are there no reliable lab tests, but there are no symptoms specific to the condition. In addition, it means that every patient living with long covid differs from another. For some, significant fatigue may be the primary concern. For others lack of mental focus.

Nonetheless, health experts have noticed that fatigue is one of the most significant concerns. It is present in most cases. It means that people living with long Covid struggle to stay physically and mentally active.

However, one can guess that fatigue is relatively common in many health conditions. Additionally, doctors find themselves helpless when fatigue is the prime complaint in the absence of other signs.

However, it does not mean there is no progress in understanding long Covid. Researchers have already found some early evidence. One study found that coronavirus spike protein, used to diagnose acute infection, is present in small amounts even after complete recovery. Spike protein can be traced even one year after recovery. This spike protein might be causing inflammation and chronic fatigue4.

However, to date, researchers have not been able to conclude what causes long Covid. Some other health experts suggest that the condition may occur due to tiny blood clots. Moreover, cardiovascular issues post-Covid are pretty common.

Since the condition is poorly understood, patients are unsure of where to seek treatment. Thus, some are treated by physicians, others by psychiatrists. However, it appears that pain medicine specialists may also help in many instances, especially when chronic body pains and fatigue are primary complaints.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP