As COVID-19 is a new illness, we don’t know all of its short and long-term impacts yet. Most people infected with COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms. Some of the short-term impacts for people with mild symptoms include shortness of breath in the lungs and airways, fever, cough, and body aches. For more severe cases, some short-term impacts can affect several organs. These include pulmonary embolisms (lungs), strokes (brain), and kidney damage due to a lack of oxygen or blood clots. The American Society of Nephrology reported that approximately 50% of patients with severe cases of COVID-19 in intensive care experience kidney failure. One study from Germany published in July 2020 found that 78 out of 100 patients recovering from a COVID-19 infection had heart-related issues that could have serious consequences, such as inflammation and scarring, but the long-term consequences of these findings are still under research. The more severe the case and symptoms of COVID-19 in a person, the more likely major organs are negatively impacted.
The longer-term effects of COVID-19 are being studied now. Exhaustion, anxiety, dizziness, headaches, muscle aches, loss of taste and smell, and difficulty breathing are often reported in patients who experience symptoms for weeks following their infection with COVID-19. For some people infected with the virus, their symptoms have lasted longer than 100 days.
Recent studies document several long-term impacts of COVID-19 on various organs in the body, including lung scarring, limited lung capacity, neurocognitive impacts, heart damage, renal failure, and more. Vanderbilt University Medical Center launched a study in July 2020 that will study delirium, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression in patients who have been hospitalized with COVID-19. These disabling impacts are also known as post-intensive care syndrome (PICS), and previous studies of intensive care patients similar to COVID-19 patients suggest that 33-50% experience dementia, 10-20% experience PTSD, and 33% experience major depression. Researchers are also studying whether COVID-19 patients with brain inflammation are at higher risk of autoimmune disorders like demyelination, where the protective coating of nerve cells is attacked by the immune system and may lead to weakness, numbness and difficulty with daily activities.
Since this is a new illness, the real long-term impacts remain unknown.
Health professionals, scientists, and journalists have reported major differences in COVID-19 symptoms from patient to patient. This includes differences in the severity of symptoms, in the duration of symptoms, and in the organs affected. For example, some patients report lingering impacts of COVID-19 lasting months, and the long-term effects of the disease are not fully known yet.
Recently, more news is circulating on the potential long-term impacts of COVID-19 in other parts of the body, beyond the lungs. For example, the media has been reporting of COVID-19 impacts on the heart, following a July 2020 research publication from Germany on heart-related issues in patients recovering from COVID-19. In an update as of mid September, US CDC reported that heart conditions like myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the covering of the heart), are associated with COVID-19. Such heart damages might also explain long-term symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, and heart palpitations. Although rare, severe heart damage has also been seen in young, healthy people. The long-term effects of the more common mild heart conditions are still unknown.
Additionally, COVID-19 damage to the brain was reported in the media, following the publication of two studies on British and French patients who experienced symptoms ranging from brain inflammation and delirium to nerve damage and stroke. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have already been concerned about the risks of PTSD and delirium in patients who require intensive care. According to a review of previous delirium research published in Intensive Care Medicine, delirium has impacted 20-40% of critically ill patients overall and as many as 80% of those who required a mechanical ventilator.
Also during July 2020, the impacts of COVID-19 on the kidneys made the news, following updated recommendations from the American Society of Nephrology. On this topic, Mount Sinai Health System Associate Professor of Nephrology and RenalytixAI Co-Founder, Dr. Steven Coca warns about the rise in “chronic kidney disease in the U.S. among those who recovered from the coronavirus…Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic we have seen the highest rate of kidney failure in our lifetimes. It’s a long-term health burden for patients, the medical community — and the U.S. economy.” New research and media reports are continuing to be released.
We base our COVID-19 expert contextualizations on information provided by internationally-recognized health organizations, public health researchers and infectious disease experts. Because information in epidemics is constantly being updated, our content is up to date based on the date and time they are published. If you’re looking for medical advice, please contact a healthcare provider, and be sure to review the World Health Organization website for more information about COVID-19.