Kate Garraway says Derek is an 'extreme example' of long Covid
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Long Covid is not fully understood by scientists, though the term is generally used to describe symptoms that continue for more than 12 weeks beyond infection, and cannot be explained by any other cause. Symptoms are often similar to those experienced by people who test positive for the virus, though some new physical effects can also occur. These are the key long Covid symptoms you should know, and how to tell if you could be experiencing it yourself.
What is long Covid?
Most people who catch coronavirus will recover from their symptoms and experience no further signs of COVID-19 in their body.
While this is the case for the majority of people, long term problems are not uncommon – even in people who weren’t unwell with the virus at the time of infection.
Long Covid cannot be characterised by one singular description, but there are a few key symptoms which have dominated known cases of this condition.
According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), an estimated 2.7 percent of the UK population is reported to have experienced long Covid (as of March 5, 2022), with more than half of these cases reported at least one year after the first suspected infection.
What are the symptoms of long Covid?
A 2021 research study led by Imperial College London identified two main categories of ongoing symptoms linked to the condition.
Of the 500,000 people who took part, the study found that a smaller group of people presented respiratory symptoms, such as a cough or breathlessness, and were more likely to have had severe COVID-19 illness while infected.
A larger group presented a cluster of more general symptoms, particularly tiredness and fatigue.
Further research by the Zoe Covid symptoms app also identified these two main groups of long term symptoms, though key organs – such as the heart, brain, and gut – were noticeably affected in the “generic” group.
Fatigue and headaches were more common in the “respiratory” group.
Based on the cases reported by the ONS up to March 5, the most common symptoms of long Covid were:
- Fatigue (51 percent)
- Shortness of breath (34 percent)
- Loss of smell (28 percent)
- Muscle ache (24 percent)
The NHS also recognises an extensive list of other possible symptoms of long Covid.
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Heart palpitations
- Pins and needles
- Joint pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Tinnitus, earaches
- Feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
While these are all common signs of long Covid, it is crucial to remember that these symptoms could have other causes too – and to consider the timing of them in relation to a confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection.
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How to know if you have long Covid
There is currently no standard test to confirm cases of long Covid, though data has been able to identify which groups are most at risk of experiencing long term symptoms.
According to the ONS, self-reported cases and symptom tracking has found that long Covid is most common in:
- 35 to 49 year olds
- People with underlying conditions which limit their activities
- Health, social care and education workers
- Those living in economically deprived areas
Lateral flow and PCR tests are unable to clarify the cause of these common symptoms, mainly because they occur beyond the detectable or infectious stage of having the virus.
According to NHS advice, you should contact a GP if you’re worried about symptoms four weeks or more after having COVID-19, where you will be able to rule out other possible causes.
In most cases, people who are suspected of having long Covid are checked for other issues with similar symptoms, such as:
- Thyroid function
- Iron deficiency
While a simple blood test could become available in the future, the current method of diagnosis is a simple process of elimination.
For those who do present the obvious signs of long Covid, there are more than 90 assessment centres open across England which have been set up to help people manage their symptoms.
According to the BBC, similar clinics have opened in Northern Ireland, while in Scotland and Wales patients are referred to different services, depending on their specific symptoms.
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