The No. 1 Sign You Have Long COVID, Top Virus Researcher Says

An expert says that "most people" see this one symptom lingering after infection.

Throughout the pandemic, doctors have gathered information to better understand COVID-19, including what it can do to the body and how they can treat it. But time has also shown that certain patients still suffer from lingering symptoms weeks or months after their initial infection clears. Now that more than two years have passed since the novel coronavirus first appeared, the medical community is finally learning more about this potentially debilitating side effect and how it can affect each person differently. But according to one top researcher, there's still one major sign that can indicate you're suffering from long COVID. Read on to see which symptom could mean someone is still feeling the effects of the virus.

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Research has shown certain people may be more at risk of developing long COVID.

A lab technician looks at samples through a microscope

Just as COVID-19 can affect each person differently, research is beginning to shed light on how patients recover from the virus and the type of timeline that can unfold—including just how common lingering symptoms can be. In a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an analysis of medical records for 353,164 patients found that one in five people under the age of 65 developed long COVID after their initial infection, increasing to one in four patients who were 65 or older.

And further research has also shown that certain types of people may be more likely to develop long COVID. In a recent unpublished study from genetic testing company 23andMe that has not been peer-reviewed, an analysis of data from over 100,000 COVID patients found that those with histories of cardiometabolic disease—which includes hypertension, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease—saw their chances of developing long COVID increase by 90 percent. Results also echoed those from previous studies that showed a difference between sexes, finding that "women are at least twice as likely to be diagnosed with long COVID compared to men even when controlling for age, ethnicity, and related health conditions."

A top virus researcher says that one particular symptom is common among "most people" with long COVID.

Shot of a young man feeling ill while sitting on a sofa at home

But besides those who may develop long-running symptoms, research is also beginning to paint a clearer picture of exactly how the virus continues to affect people. During an appearance on CBS News's Face the Nation on June 5, Walter Koroshetz, MD, co-chair of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) long COVID initiative, described how the lingering condition played out for patients examined in his research since it began in February 2021—including what was one of its most common signs.

"The great difficulty is the fact that the heterogeneity of the symptoms is quite vast. But I think there are some characteristics that make it very unusual. People develop usually more than one symptom. There's usually a cluster of symptoms," he explained. "Fatigue is just pretty much [where] most of the people have trouble."

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Patients have also reported a wide range of other symptoms after recovering from COVID.

Elderly Woman Holding Her Head in Confusion

However, Koroshetz explained that the over 4,000 participants included in his more than year-long study experienced a range of issues when experiencing long COVID that went well beyond feeling sapped of energy.

"There are neurological troubles, trouble concentrating, sleeping, sometimes peripheral nerve trouble, [a] sense of the bubbling on your skin. Some people have pulmonary difficulties with continued sense of shortness of breath and a cough. Some people have cardiovascular trouble. A lot of trouble with exercise and tolerance. There's digestive track trouble as well," he listed.

Experts say it's important to speak to your doctor if you think you're showing signs of long COVID.

Doctor and Patient talking

When asked about how the study's results could change how the medical community understands long COVID, Koroshetz replied that he hoped to provide more information on the biology behind the condition that would allow for improved treatments and targeted outreach for some patients. But he also pointed out that there was still a way people suffering from lingering symptoms could seek help.

"Just being forthright with your physician and telling him what your problems are is the first step and not being afraid of it. The knowledge about this condition is spreading like wildfire across the country, so it's not a brand new thing anymore," he said. "It's called the post-COVID condition. So it's actually getting out into the general medical practice now."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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