The range of reported symptoms is vast. They include unusual fatigue from physical or mental activity, brain fog, temperature irregularities, rashes, memory problems and insomnia. It’s as if the body’s immune response to the coronavirus has thrown the nervous system out of whack, according to Dr. Dayna McCarthy, rehabilitation specialist at the Mount Sinai Center for Post-Covid Care.
The lasting effects among those who survived another serious coronavirus disease, SARS, are not very encouraging. As the Mayo Clinic reported, “Many people who have recovered from SARS have gone on to develop chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that worsens with physical or mental activity, but doesn’t improve with rest. The same may be true for people who have had Covid-19.”
The Covid-19 virus can damage the lungs, heart and brain, increasing the risk of persistent health problems. According to the Mayo experts, “Imaging tests taken months after recovery from Covid-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in people who had only mild Covid-19 symptoms.” The illness can cause very small blood clots that can block capillaries in the heart and permanently injure the heart muscle. The disease can also weaken blood vessels and injure the kidneys and liver.
Covid can scar the lungs’ tiny air sacs and cause long-term breathing difficulty even if the scars partially heal. This effect on lung function ended the life of 107-year-old Marilee Shapiro Asher, a celebrated artist in Washington, D.C., who remained professionally active until Covid-19 laid her low in early spring. During five days in the hospital, she recovered from the acute infection, then died several months later with virus-caused damage to her lungs that left them brittle and filled their air sacs with fluid.
With SARS, a 15-year follow-up of patients found that most lung recovery took place within two years, but some mild pulmonary effects remained indefinitely in more than a third of recovered SARS patients.
Brain-related effects of an active Covid-19 infection can include strokes, seizures and a temporary paralysis called Guillain-Barré syndrome. Many Covid patients lose their sense of smell and taste during the acute illness, but for some this neurological effect persisted for months after they had otherwise recovered. And questions remain whether the viral infection also will raise the risk of later developing neurological problems like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.
People who were severely ill with Covid-19, especially those who spent weeks or longer isolated in intensive care with or without a ventilator, can develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome and persistent problems with anxiety and depression. Their emotional trauma may cause recurrent nightmares and a fear of being alone and even of going to sleep.