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What does long COVID feel like?

Hanh Truong, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Health & Fitness

Particularly in patients that have worsened anxiety, depression and brain fog after COVID, he added.

Dr. Khai V. Tran, a family medicine doctor in Fremont and chair of family medicine at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, added that COVID could also worsen conditions such as asthma and emphysema.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LONG HAUL COVID?

Long-term coronavirus symptoms can range from shortness of breath and fatigue to changes in smell, sleep disorders and extremely cold hands and feet.

"There's still so much that we're learning," Tran said about long haul COVID. "This is a relatively new condition."

Sandrock said brain fog, which refers to the difficulty of thinking and concentrating, is the most common indicator of long-haul.

For Chumley, her brain fog made it hard for her to grasp simple concepts, both in academic and social settings. She couldn't focus on what she was reading or remember the plot of the TV show that she was just watching.

The former massage therapist likened his brain fog to ingesting cannabis and then trying to solve math problems.

"As soon as you think of one thing and try to think of the next thing, the previous thing is gone," he said. "And then after that, you try to think of the next thing and you forget everything that you were just thinking about and you just kind of get left in a blank spot."

Among his patients, Sandrock has also seen loss of hair and teeth. Other symptoms he mentioned included neuropathy, lethargy, chest pain, decreased energy and lowered exercise tolerance.

The massage therapist said he would experience exhaustion from simple tasks, such as sweeping the floor or mowing the lawn, to the point where he would be bedridden for a week. And Parra said he can only walk for six minutes until his body gives out and he can't breathe.

For thousands who are suffering from the residual effects of COVID, the other symptoms can be perplexing. These can include seizures, memory loss, anxiety and depression, among others. Symptoms are still being studied.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GO FOR HELP?

There is no one test that doctors can administer to find out if someone has long COVID, Sandrock said. And similarly, there's no one drug that will alleviate all of its symptoms, according to Tran.

Instead, doctors will look into a specific symptom and run tests accordingly.

So if you have shortness of breath or chest pain, the physician will order a CAT scan and look for clots, Sandrock said. If you have a heart limitation, they might run a cardiac MRI or echocardiogram. If you come in with a loss of smell or brain fog, then they'll have you take neuro-psych tests.

At the UC Davis Post-COVID-19 Clinic, Sandrock said one of the first thing physicians will do is try to figure out what the patient's COVID infection experience was, as it dictates treatment options.

He explained that some people who get COVID and are hospitalized may have "post ICU syndrome," which includes symptoms similar to long COVID, such as brain dysfunction and mental health issues.

However, if you are still experiencing lingering symptoms by the second or third month after your acute infection, then it's more likely a long-haul situation, Sandrock said.

In an attempt to find answers and remedies to their long-haul symptoms, Chumley, Parra and the massage therapist did seek medical attention.

 

Their doctor's visits entailed running tests, getting blood work done and taking x-rays. But none of them have received a clear diagnosis of their health issues.

Taking matters into their own hands, they've done their own research on medicine, supplements and herbal remedies.

"I tried everything in America," Chumley said, "including, guess what, Ivermectin and it didn't work."

The FDA strongly cautions against the use of Ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasitic worms. It has not been approved as a treatment or preventative method for COVID-19 and using unapproved drugs can be highly dangerous.

There are online groups on Facebook and Reddit with thousands of members sharing their experiences, supporting other long haulers and sharing their research and journey towards recovery.

Tran advised that people should first meet with their doctor before trying anything.

"I totally recommend that they talk to their physicians because there is a ton of things that are out there on the Internet and within groups," he said. "But I think all of that should be done in consultation with your physician."

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

The road to recovery from post COVID-19 symptoms is long and can be challenging as research is ongoing.

"I think there's hope that the vast majority of patients will get better," Tran said.

While patients may not get instantly healed from their long COVID, Sandrock said he's seen people who have gotten better.

"When they do get better, it's really very often slow," he said.

He added, "So I think that's kind of the key — is they are getting better."

Chumley's symptoms occurred over the span of nine months, but have since subsided. She'll have occasional flare ups of nausea, sleeplessness, back pain, mouth ulcers and tightening of the chest about a few times a month. But it varies and is inconsistent, she said.

The massage therapist noticed his long haul symptoms started to slightly improve this September after he returned home from recent fire evacuations in the Sacramento region.

"I only got a very, very mild flare up," he said. "And once we were able to get home, I was able to rest for just a few days and not get super, super sick."

His brain fog has also gotten better, allowing him to enjoy his hobby of coding for software and games.

Parra, who now volunteers for the COVID Care Group to help spread awareness of long COVID, said he has seen small improvements, such as less frequent headaches, and now has a stabilized body weight. But his speech impediment and motor skills have gotten worse in the past week, he said on his Instagram.

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