When new or recurring COVID-19 symptoms continue for weeks, you might be suffering from post-COVID syndrome (also called long COVID). Find out what are common (and less common) post-COVID symptoms, whether you're still contagious and if you should get the COVID-19 vaccine.
How to know if you have post-COVID syndrome
Pulmonologist John Dickinson, MD, PhD, has been treating many patients suffering from post-COVID syndrome. Dr. Dickinson explains, "Post-COVID is defined as new or current symptoms that persist more than eight weeks after the original infection, and the individual is no longer testing positive."
COVID-19 long-haulers, also called COVID-19 survivors, can experience very different post-COVID symptoms. Post-COVID symptoms often come and go.
Common post-COVID symptoms
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath (hypoxia)
- Tiredness or exhaustion
- Trouble concentrating (brain fog)
- Trouble sleeping
Less common post-COVID symptoms
- Anxiety or depression
- Feeling lightheaded
- Hair loss
- Heart palpitations (racing heart)
- Joint or muscle pain
- Loss of taste or smell
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Upset stomach
Mental health concerns
Anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances and PTSD have been reported in 30% or more of COVID-19 survivors.
"As a pulmonologist, a lot of the people I see are ICU survivors. So, some of them have PTSD from their near-death experience in the ICU. COVID-19 was traumatic for those folks," says Dr. Dickinson. But others stayed at home throughout their disease and started to experience issues with their mental health.
"The dilemma of this post-COVID condition is that many people are never hospitalized, but they have these persistent symptoms that are distressing to them," says Dr. Dickinson. "They often feel that no one understands them. They go to their doctor, who runs a test or does an X-ray, and it's normal. So they feel like nobody gets what they're going through."
Are people with post-COVID contagious?
Typically, after four weeks, a long-hauler's polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is negative, meaning they are not contagious. The cut-off for being contagious (and ending your quarantine) would be when you test negative on a PCR test.
Should people with post-COVID get vaccinated?
"I recommend that post-COVID patients get the vaccine," says Dr. Dickinson. "I typically recommend waiting 3 months after the initial infection to get the COVID-19 vaccine." We don't know yet if the COVID-19 vaccines help resolve post-COVID symptoms, but they do prevent against re-infection.