Last updated on October 3, 2023.
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About Long COVID
What is Long COVID?
While most people recover from COVID-19 within four weeks, some people continue to feel sick for a longer period of time. Sometimes, people will recover from their initial COVID-19 infection and then start to feel sick again. CDC calls these lingering symptoms “post-COVID conditions.” They are also commonly known as “Long COVID,” “long-haul COVID,” and “chronic COVID."
Many people may experience Long COVID. Studies show that between 5 and 30 percent of COVID-19 survivors in the United States develop Long COVID. A 2022 report from Colorado’s Office of Saving People Money on Health Care found that as many as one in 10 Coloradans may experience Long COVID.
Some people with Long COVID get better after a few months. Others have serious, ongoing symptoms that make it difficult to go back to work, school, exercise, and other activities. Some people become disabled as a result of Long COVID. Long COVID may be considered a legal disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Public health researchers are still learning more about Long COVID and how long it affects people.
Symptoms of Long COVID
Long COVID symptoms may include tiredness, headache, difficulty focusing or paying attention, trouble breathing, pain, and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. However, there are many different types of symptoms. They can include (but are not limited to):
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Tiredness or fatigue.
- Feeling especially tired or sick after exercise or exertion (also known as post-exertional malaise).
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”).
- Chest pain.
- Stomach pain.
- Fast-beating, skipping beats, or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations).
- Joint or muscle pain.
- Pins-and-needles feeling.
- Sleep problems.
- Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness).
- Mood changes (e.g., anxiety and/or depression).
- Changes in smell or taste.
- Changes in menstrual periods.
Symptoms can go away and come back over time. They may be different from the symptoms you felt when you first had COVID-19.
What causes Long COVID?
Researchers are still learning more about how COVID-19 can lead to Long COVID in some people. Long COVID is more than one disease, so it can have multiple causes. In some cases, COVID-19 may damage a person’s cells. Sometimes, the immune system stays active after a person is no longer infected. In other cases, the COVID-19 virus can stay in a person’s body for a long time.
Who is at risk for Long COVID?
Anyone who gets COVID-19 might get Long COVID, even if they didn’t feel any symptoms during their initial infection. However, some people may be at greater risk for Long COVID than others. People who may be at higher risk include:
- People who experienced more severe COVID-19 illness, especially those who were hospitalized or needed intensive care.
- People who never received a COVID-19 vaccine.
- People who had five or more different symptoms during their initial infection, even if those symptoms were mild.
- People who were infected with COVID-19 multiple times.
- People who had multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after their COVID-19 infection.
- People who had underlying health conditions prior to COVID-19.
- People with less access to health care due to health inequities.
- Women, compared to men.
- Older adults.
Lowering your risk of Long COVID
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 lowers your risk of Long COVID. Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines makes it less likely that you will be infected or re-infected with COVID-19. Other precautions, like washing your hands, wearing a mask, and avoiding indoor crowds, can also help prevent COVID-19 infection.
If you get infected with COVID-19, getting medicine quickly may reduce your risk of developing long COVID.
Diagnosis and treatment
Right now, there is no specific test that can tell you if you have Long COVID. Your health care provider will consider a diagnosis of Long COVID based on your health history and an examination. Your provider may also run blood tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.
You might be diagnosed with Long COVID if:
- You had a known COVID-19 infection.
- Your symptoms appeared following your COVID-19 infection.
- Other medical conditions are ruled out.
- Your symptoms don’t go away with time and rest.
There is no specific treatment recommended for everyone with Long COVID right now. Treatment for long COVID varies depending on a person’s symptoms. It can include symptom management and rehabilitation to help improve quality of life. For example, people with fatigue may benefit from learning how to pace their daily activities to manage their energy. People with brain fog may benefit from focusing on one activity at a time, while people who have trouble sleeping may benefit from improving sleep hygiene.
Long COVID care may need to be coordinated among multiple providers. Your primary care provider may connect you with specialists who can help with specific aspects of your illness, such as cardiologists, neurologists, autoimmune specialists, and rehabilitation providers.
Resources and support
What should I do if I have Long COVID?
If you have symptoms of Long COVID, talking with a health care provider can help you learn more about how to get treatment and manage your symptoms.
The following providers specialize in Long COVID care in Colorado.
Note: This list of providers does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by CDPHE. There may be other providers offering Long COVID care in Colorado that are not listed here.
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center’s Post-COVID Clinic
Anschutz Medical Campus, 13001 East 17th Place, Aurora, CO 80045
National Jewish Health’s Center for Post-COVID Care and Recovery
1400 Jackson St., Denver, CO 80206
Call (877) 225-5654 (CALL-NJH) or fill out the online appointment request form.
Family West Health Post COVID Clinic
300 W. Ottley Ave., Fruita, CO 81521
Preparing for your appointment can help make sure you get the care you need. CDC has a health care appointment checklist for Long COVID patients that you can fill out before your appointment.
Support and resources are available from organizations like:
Learn more about managing Long COVID and supporting children living with Long COVID. Additional resources for managing Long COVID are available in the World Health Organization’s pamphlet Support for rehabilitation: self-management after COVID-19-related illness.
If you have any life-threatening symptoms, call 911 immediately.
Mental health resources
To find mental health support, use CDC’s Mental Health Tools and Resources webpage.
You can also call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to talk to someone right away. Colorado Crisis Services provides 24/7 access to behavioral health services regardless of ability to pay. Depending on the reason for your call, you will either be connected to a trained mental health professional, or you can choose to speak with a peer specialist.
- Colorado’s Office of Saving People Money on Health Care First Study Report on Long COVID and Post Viral Illnesses Caused by COVID-19
- CDC: Post COVID Conditions
- CDC: Caring for people with Post-COVID Conditions
- Johns Hopkins Health: COVID ‘Long Haulers’: Long-Term Effects of COVID-19
- World Health Organization: Expanding our understanding of post-COVID-19 conditions
- Long COVID Kids
- Long COVID Alliance
- RECOVER: Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery
- U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights: Long COVID under Section 504 and the IDEA: A Resource to Support Children, Students, Educators, Schools, Service Providers, and Families
- U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability: COVID-19 and long COVID-19 resources
- Office of Disability Employment Policy Job Accommodation Network: Accommodating Employees with COVID-19 or long COVID
Prevalence of Symptoms ≤12 Months After Acute Illness, by COVID-19 Testing Status Among Adults (CDC) - August 11, 2023
Approximately 16% of adults with COVID-like symptoms reported persistent symptoms 12 months after a positive or negative SARS-CoV-2 test result.
Long COVID and Significant Activity Limitation Among Adults, by Age (CDC) - August 11, 2023
Approximately one quarter of adults with long COVID report significant activity limitations.
The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation’s (AAPM&R) Multi-Disciplinary Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Collaborative provides guidance for providers on treating:
- Respiratory symptoms.
- Cognitive symptoms.
- Neurological symptoms.
- Cardiovascular complications.
- Autonomic dysfunction.
- Pediatric patients.
For information from CDC, visit:
More resources for health care providers include:
- World Health Organization: Post COVID-19 condition.
- Project ECHO: Long COVID and Fatiguing Illness Recovery Program.
- A monthly learning series, resource library, and quarterly short course for providers who care for patients with post-COVID conditions.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Post-COVID Conditions in Children and Adolescents.
- Interim guidance for pediatricians and primary care providers about Long COVID in children and adolescents.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Health+ Long COVID: Human-Centered Design Report (PDF).
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Services and Supports for Longer-Term Impacts of COVID-19 (PDF).
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Whole Health System Approach to Long COVID (PDF).
- SAMHSA: Identification and Management of Mental Health Symptoms and Conditions Associated with Long COVID.
- SSA: Long COVID: A Guide for Health Professionals on Providing Medical Evidence for Social Security Disability Claims (PDF).