7 Long-Term Health Risks of Coronavirus You Need to Know
Lung and kidney damage are possible long-term effects associated with COVID-19.
Since the coronavirus causing COVID-19 is a relatively new virus that is still being researched and tested, it will take years to know exactly how this virus will impact people's health long-term. However, there are some troubling effects already being seen in COVID-19 patients that give scientists and medical professionals insight into the lasting health problems that could be in store for those infected. From lung damage to blood clots that can lead to strokes or heart attacks, these are the long-term coronavirus health risks that experts are predicting. And to monitor your own health, make sure you're aware of these 6 New Coronavirus Symptoms the CDC Wants You to Know.
Since COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, lung function is one of the main things that is affected even after the virus has left the body.
"Researchers have found that long-term scarring of the lungs, known as fibrosis, can be a problem, which could cause varying levels of long-term breathing impairments," says Ari Bernstein, MD, advisor for Fruit Street Health and CovidMD. In fact, doctors in Hong Kong told the South China Morning Post that some coronavirus survivors have a "20 to 30 percent drop in lung function" after they have recovered, which can make them "gasp" if they walk too quickly. And to stay healthy, learn these 13 Safety Precautions You Should Take Every Day to Prevent Coronavirus.
COVID-19 survivors have a high risk of developing blood clots in the future, which is extremely dangerous, as blood clots can result in strokes or heart attacks. James Giordano, PhD, professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, says that the "overall inflammatory effects produced by high levels of cytokines can increase blood clotting." These high levels of cytokines are the result of severe COVID-19 cases triggering cytokine storms, which is where the immune system starts attacking the body's own cells rather than just the virus.
You may feel more tired overall if you have coronavirus, but that feeling can linger. Giordano says extreme chronic fatigue is likely to be a long-term effect of COVID-19. Many experts believe that other viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus, trigger chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)—also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis—in recovered patients, because many people develop CFS after a viral infection. And for more about what it's like to have COVID-19, read one person's account: I'm a Healthy 28 Year Old Who Got Coronavirus. Here's What It Was Like.
COVID-19 has already impacted kidney functions in those that have contracted the virus. An April 2020 study published in the Kidney International journal performed autopsies on 26 people in China that had died from the coronavirus. In their study, they found that nine of the patients showed clinical signs of kidney damage through the result of increased serum creatinine levels and unusually high amounts of protein in the urine.
Nervous system damage
An April 2020 study published in JAMA Neurology showed that a large number of coronavirus patients had neurological signs and symptoms that pointed to nervous system dysfunction. In the 214 patients studied, these symptoms were seen in 78 of them, which accounts for nearly 40 percent. Reported symptoms included dizziness and headaches, as well as taste and smell impairment. And for the long-term societal effects of the pandemic, discover 10 Weird Ways Life Will Be Different After the Coronavirus Lockdown.
Another organ the new coronavirus may impact long-term is the liver, says Chris Norris, MD, chartered physiotherapist and neurologist working with Sleep Standards.
"At some places, worrisome test results suggested that the apparently recovered patients continued to have impaired liver function. That was the case even after two tests for the live virus had come back negative, and the patients were cleared to be discharged," he says. Liver damage was also a result of two past coronaviruses, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS) in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) in 2012.
Not all the lingering effects of COVID-19 will be physically visible, however. Leann Poston, MD, medical expert with Invigor Medical, says that while it's hard to know for certain what the long-term health risks of coronavirus will be, we can draw comparisons from other viruses and conclude that there will be new psychological issues in many recovered patients.
"Admission to the hospital without family support, admission to the ICU, and the possibility of needing a ventilator to survive can traumatize anyone," she says. "Patients may find that as the initial threat is resolved and their health starts to return that they suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The stress from the respiratory symptoms, the cytokine storm, and the medications used to treat COVID may all contribute to long-term psychological changes." And if you're worried about getting sick, here are 10 Mental Health Tips for People at High Risk for COVID-19.