What is Long Covid? What are the symptoms? And is there a test for it?

With early signs of possible rising coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in England and Northern Ireland in the week to 2 June 2022 due to rises in infections compatible with some Omicron variants, according to the Office for National Statistics, we have been looking at the symptoms of Long Covid after the infection has gone.

For some people, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is sometimes called post-COVID-19 syndrome or "long COVID," according to the NHS.

What are the symptoms of Long Covid?

Typical symptoms of coronavirus include a cough, high temperature or loss of taste or smell, but these usually don’t last more than three weeks.

Young woman with long covid syndrome symptoms

The long-term symptoms that some people experience often vary widely and encompass both physical and neurological effects, with these lasting into weeks and even months in some cases.

The most common symptom of Long Covid is severe fatigue, while other sufferers have reported breathlessness, a persistent cough, joint pain, muscle aches and mental health problems.

The vast array of symptoms include:

Muscle aches and weakness

Severe fatigue

Breathlessness

Chest pain

Headaches

Joint pain

Skin rashes

Memory loss or lack of concentration

Depression

Anxiety

Struggling to think clearly

Digestive problems

Loss of taste and smell

Hearing and eyesight problems

Persistent cough

Hair loss

Why is the virus causing long-term effects?

It is believed that while the virus may have been cleared from most of the body, it can continue to linger in some small pockets which can cause longer-lasting symptoms.

As the virus can directly infect a wide variety of cells in the body, it can trigger an overactive immune system which causes damage throughout the body.

It is thought that the immune system does not return to normal after infection and this can cause damage to how the body’s organs function, such as if the lungs become scarred. This has been seen after Sars or Mers infections, which are both types of coronavirus.

Are some people more at risk of Long Covid than others?

Developing long-term symptoms does not appear to be linked to how ill you are when you are first infected with Covid-19, but new research has identified four key factors that could increase your risk.

A recent study published in the medical journal Cell identified four common factors that can be seen in the early stages of coronavirus infections.

Researchers said these factors are often found in people who later develop long-lasting symptoms, even if the infection was mild.

The four factors thought to increase the likelihood of developing Long Covid are:

The viral load in a person’s blood

The presence of certain autoantibodies (antibodies that recognise parts of our own body) which are often used to combat the virus and its symptoms

The reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus, which has been known to infect people at a young age if the patient has Type 2 diabetes

Is there a test for Long Covid?

Those suffering with long-lasting symptoms after Covid-19 infection should seek advice from a GP to discuss what impact it is having on your day-to-day life

Your doctor may suggest some tests to find out more about your symptoms and rule out other things that could be causing them.

These might include:

blood tests

checking your blood pressure and heart rate

a chest X-ray

You may then be given advice about how to manage and monitor your symptoms at home, or referred to a specialist rehabilitation service or a service that specialises in the specific symptoms you have.

More information on recovery from Covid-19 can be found on the NHS Your COVID Recovery website.