More Lingering Effects from COVID-19 Emerging
Our primary care doctors in Delray Beach are beginning to hear from some of our patients that they are still experiencing distressing symptoms after recovery from COVID-19. Some people are skeptical that there is such a thing as “long-haul COVID,” but we aren’t. Although there are no specific tests for the syndrome (officially known as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, or PASC), we have seen enough circumstantial evidence to convince us that it’s a real condition.
There’s still a great deal we’re learning about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus: how it works to infect the body, who is most susceptible, and especially, the long-term aftereffects of infection. The latter is one area many researchers are focusing on, because some experts believe that as many as 40 percent of those who have had COVID-19, the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, will have debilitating symptoms for many months or years afterward.
Array of symptoms
Some survivors report as many as 200 distressing effects after they’ve been infected. These include:
- extreme fatigue
- chest pain
- muscle pain
- brain fog
- heart palpitations
- chronic cough
- shortness of breath
- stomach pain
- painful, itchy rashes
Finally, the telltale symptom of loss of smell and taste with the onset of a COVID-19 infection can also linger for months afterward, especially in seniors, according to a study last fall.
Adding to the mystery, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the person had a mild or a severe case, whether or not they were in prime physical condition, or their age—even children are being affected with long COVID.
While these symptoms can be life-altering for many survivors, so far they haven’t seemed to be life-threatening. But that may be changing.
Besides the heart complications we wrote about recently (“Study Finds Lingering Heart Issues from COVID”), researchers have now found another possible long-term effect in those who have had the disease: the onset of type 2 diabetes, which can have serious health implications. The study was published last month in the journal Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.
Researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Saint Louis Health Care System reviewed the records of 181,000 patients between March 2020 and September 2021. They found that people who had recovered from COVID-19 were 40 percent more likely to develop a new case of diabetes, compared to more than 4.1 million VA patients who were not infected over the same time frame.
This study seems to confirm findings from earlier, smaller studies, along with observations by primary care physicians, who have noted anecdotally an increase in new type 2 diabetes cases among their patients following COVID-19 infection. Type 2 diabetes can damage the heart, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels, and increase the risk for heart attack and stroke, among other serious effects.
Some have questioned whether the results of this latest study are because those with undiagnosed diabetes were finally diagnosed when they were being treated for the coronavirus, or whether COVID-19 itself triggered the disease.
But Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research and development at VA Saint Louis Health Care System and lead author of the study, told The Washington Post that his review was the largest study of the question and looked at the greatest length of time after infection: from 31 days after infection to a median of nearly one year per patient. He also said the large number of individuals involved made him confident in his findings.
“The risk was evident in all subgroups,” he told ABC News.
“It was evident in Black people and White people; it was evident in young folks and in older folks; it was evident in males and females; and, most important, it was also evident even in people who had no risk factors for diabetes at all,” he said.
Another long COVID symptom
For those who still believe it’s better to get infected with the coronavirus to develop a so-called “natural” immunity rather than having a vaccine, this is another good reason to try to avoid infection.
“Taken together,” the researchers wrote in the Lancet article, “current evidence suggests that diabetes is a facet of the multifaceted long COVID syndrome and that post-acute care strategies of people with COVID-19 should include identification and management of diabetes.”
Anyone who has already had the virus should watch for the warning signs of diabetes such as excessive thirst and frequent urination, Al-Aly said.
“Those are signs of diabetes, and we need you to get checked because catching this early and identifying diabetes early and treating it, or nipping it in the bud, is always better than leaving it unattended for years and suffering even worse or more serious health consequences,” Al-Aly told ABC News.
“COVID-19 isn’t only about the acute effects,” he added.
“This is going to leave a lot of people with long-term health consequences that they’ll have to deal with for a lifetime, and that’s jarring. It’s unsettling to accept,” he said.