One Frightening Thing About COVID-19 No One Is Talking About
The long-term effects are much worse than previously thought.
By now you know quite a lot about COVID-19. Yes, that it's both incredibly contagious and that so far nearly 190,000 Americans have died from it this year (with more than 400,000 Americans projected to die from it by year's end). You know the symptoms, that wearing a mask is important, and that a 14-day self-imposed quarantine after traveling is the smart and responsible thing to do. But as much as you know about the coronavirus, there may be some essential facts about if you've missed. According to one new study, we all may be giving short shrift to its more significant side effects, including the fact that many recovering patients have lasting lung damage for months after they've recovered.
The study comes from the University Clinic of Internal Medicine in Innsbruck, Austria, which tracked dozens of coronavirus patients who at one time experienced severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Researchers found that six weeks after leaving the hospital, 88 percent of patients still showed signs of lung damage in CT scans, while 47 percent of patients were experiencing persistent and significant shortness of breath. The damage from inflammation and fluid in the lungs caused by the coronavirus should up on CT scans as white patches known as "ground glass." At 12 weeks, these figures were 56 percent and 39 percent, respectively. These preliminary findings were presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress and not published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"COVID-19 survivors have persisting lung impairment weeks after recovery," said Sabina Sahanic, MD of the University Clinic in Innsbruck. "The bad news is that people show lung impairment from COVID-19 weeks after discharge. The good news is that the impairment tends to ameliorate over time, which suggests the lungs have a mechanism for repairing themselves."
The majority of recovering coronavirus patients with the most severe symptoms were older men with pre-existing comorbidities.
"The Austrian study reports short-term follow-up results in a hospitalized cohort, demonstrating there is ongoing evidence of both heart and lung impairment in a large proportion of patients at 12 weeks from discharge," Tom Wilkinson, a professor and consultant in respiratory medicine at the University of Southampton, told The Guardian.
Ultimately, the experts highlighted the importance of follow-up appointments with your doctor after contracting the virus.
"The findings from this study show the importance of implementing structured follow-up care for patients with severe COVID-19 infection," Dr. Sahalic noted—adding that this should inform medical professionals in how they should approach post-recovery treatment. "Knowing how patients have been affected long-term by the coronavirus might enable symptoms and lung damage to be treated much earlier, and might have a significant impact on further medical recommendations and advice." And for more on lasting effects, check out The 4 Worst Long-Term Effects You'll Have From COVID, Study Finds.