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What to Know About Long COVID in 2023

What to Know About Long COVID in 2023

Long COVID has significantly impacted the U.S. population since the onset of the 2020 pandemic. Even those who suffered mild infections aren’t immune to developing post-COVID condition, joining millions of other “long-haulers” struggling with daily functioning as a result of chronic fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, and a myriad of other symptoms.

In 2022, The Brookings Institute estimated that approximately 2-4 million Americans were unable to rejoin the workforce due to long COVID. Fortunately, experts say the rate of long COVID has dropped in recent months, declining from 35% in June 2022 to 28% in January 2023.

Despite this, researchers are still struggling to recognize and treat an infinite list of symptoms, many of which may be linked to other post-viral conditions like POTS and fibromyalgia. While our understanding of long COVID is still limited, experts have made headway when it comes to treatment, diagnosis, and other factors.

Keep reading to learn updated information about America’s longstanding battle with long COVID in 2023.

What Is Long COVID?

Following a COVID-19 infection, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can linger in the body to impact its organs and systems, resulting in post-COVID condition or “long COVID.” According to the CDC, there are numerous symptoms of long COVID, including (but not limited to):

  • Brain fog
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Joint pain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lightheadedness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in smell or taste
  • “Pins and needles” sensation
  • Reproductive health issues, including erectile dysfunction

More specifically, symptoms can significantly impact an individual’s executive functioning—the set of cognitive processes and mental skills that enable individuals to plan, initiate, and execute tasks while retaining focus, managing time efficiently, and achieving their goals.

Executive functioning affects working memory, flexible thinking, self-control, and attention management. Research shows that executive functioning plays a crucial role in learning, working, and functioning in daily life, making it a key component in both the personal and professional spheres.

The Impact of Long COVID in 2023

Cognitive impairments and neurological symptoms are still prevalent in long COVID patients in 2023, with experts referring to both as a “major feature” of post-COVID condition. Twelve weeks after the initial onset, fatigue was found in 32% of patients and cognitive impairment was found in 22%.

The demographic most affected by long COVID includes patients aged 36-50. Research shows that the condition affects more women than men. While those with underlying medical conditions are believed to be at higher risk of developing long COVID, this isn’t mandatory to suffer from post-COVID condition.

Studies show that even individuals with asymptomatic or mild SARS-CoV-2 infections can go on to develop long COVID. In children, there is a higher risk for those with certain conditions, including ADHD, chronic urticaria, and allergic reactions, such as hives and seasonal allergies.

What Causes Long COVID?

In 2023, experts have reason to believe there are “multiple, potentially overlapping, causes of long COVID,” such as:

  • Viral persistence within bodily tissue, organs, and systems
  • Excessive blood clotting
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Disruptions to immune response

Why Long COVID Patients Struggle to Obtain Care

Despite having significantly more knowledge of long COVID in 2023 than we did at the onset of the pandemic, there are still various obstacles that prevent long-haulers from obtaining the standard of medical care they need and deserve. One reason for this is the absence of a standardized diagnostic test.

The CDC states that no single test can determine whether or not a person has long COVID, making it challenging for healthcare professionals to recognize, diagnose, and effectively treat long COVID and related conditions. This can also make it challenging, if not impossible, for patients to acquire disability benefits and other forms of assistance to stay financially afloat in the unpredictability of our recovering economy.

Future Impacts of Long COVID

While substantial advancements have been made in recognizing and understanding long COVID, we have much to learn regarding its short- and long-term impacts on American life and public health. The broad range of symptoms can make long COVID difficult to treat, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution to end patients’ chronic suffering.

Long COVID treatments will vary based on the individual's unique case and other variances. Common forms of treatment include breathing exercises, physical therapy, and medications to alleviate long COVID symptoms. Other techniques include those used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), another chronic medical condition that approximately half of long COVID patients are estimated to have. Trials are ongoing to assess the effectiveness of certain drugs like antihistamines, in addition to anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting medications.

Long COVID: What We Know for Certain

While there is still much to discover about long COVID, here are some things we know for sure:

  • Severe COVID-19 infections are more likely to lead to long COVID. While anyone who contracts the SARS-CoV-2 virus can develop long COVID, rates are higher in those who experienced severe cases.
  • Getting vaccinated can reduce the risk of contracting long COVID and other post-viral conditions. Studies revealed that those who receive a single dose of the vaccine are 35% less likely to develop long COVID after a COVID-19 infection.
  • The risk of long COVID increases with the quantity of COVID cases. For those who contract multiple COVID-19 infections, the likelihood of developing post-COVID conditions increases with case frequency.

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