Skip to main content

A doctor holds his stethoscope during a patient visit in East Lancashire, U.K., on May 14, 2020.

Hannah Mckay/Reuters

Ongoing illness after infection with COVID-19, sometimes called “long COVID,” may not be one syndrome but possibly up to four causing a roller coaster of symptoms affecting all parts of the body and mind, doctors said on Thursday.

In an initial report about long-term COVID-19, Britain’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) said one common theme among ongoing COVID-19 patients – some of whom are seven months or more into their illness – is that symptoms appear in one physiological area, such as the heart or lungs, only to abate and then arise again in a different area.

“This review highlights the detrimental physical and psychological impact that ongoing COVID is having on many people’s lives,” said Dr Elaine Maxwell, who led the report.

Story continues below advertisement

COVID-19 news: Updates and essential resources about the pandemic

Is my city going back into lockdown? A guide to COVID-19 rules across Canada

‘Who do masks protect: the wearer or other people?’ André Picard answers your questions on face masks and more

Many thousands of people worldwide have linked up on social media platforms and online forums to share their experiences of ongoing COVID-19 symptoms. Some call themselves “long haulers” while others have named their condition “long COVID.”

According to UK-based patient group LongCovidSOS, data from a King’s College London-devised symptom tracker app shows that 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients remain unwell after three weeks, and up to 5 per cent may continue to be sick for months.

Maxwell, who presented the findings of the “Living with COVID” report in an online media briefing, said health services are already struggling “to manage these new and fluctuating patterns of symptoms and problems.”

She and her co-authors urged patients and doctors to log and track symptoms so that health researchers can learn more about the condition and how to ease it as swiftly as possible.

“Despite the uncertainties, people need help now,” she said. “We need to collect more data.”

For this initial report, Maxwell’s team held a focus group with 14 members of a Facebook group called Long COVID.

Their testimony suggested ongoing COVID can be cyclical, Maxwell said, with symptoms fluctuating in severity and moving around the body including around the respiratory system, the brain, cardiovascular system and heart, the kidneys, the gut, the liver and the skin.

Story continues below advertisement

“There are powerful stories that ongoing COVID symptoms are experienced by people of all ages, and people from all backgrounds,” the report said.

Maxwell said an urgent priority is to establish a working diagnosis recognized by healthcare services, employers and government agencies to help patients get support.

“While this is a new disease and we are learning more about its impact …, services will need to be better equipped to support people with ongoing COVID, as emerging evidence is showing there are significant psychological and social impacts that will have long term consequences,” the report said.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

Follow related topics

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies