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Brain damage, hair loss, and fatigue: Everything we know about the long-term effects of COVID infections

Many people who contract COVID-19 experience symptoms for a week or two before fully recovering. But for 31% to 69% of COVID patients, the side effects last far longer.

Long COVID, as the condition is known, occurs usually three months after the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and, in some cases, up to a year, according to the World Health Organization.

Amid the current omicron outbreak that has helped to break records for daily case totals, scientists and researchers are still studying long COVID to better understand its cause and impact. Here’s what to look out for.

Common long COVID symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, older people and those with serious medical conditions or comorbidities are more likely to experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms. But they are not the only ones, as young and otherwise healthy people can experience COVID symptoms long after an initial infection.

Some of the most common long COVID symptoms are similar to what patients experience when they are first infected with COVID. These include shortness of breath, fatigue, coughing, body aches, and loss of taste or smell, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Other common long COVID symptoms differ from normal COVID, and at times, only start to develop long after an infection. Those symptoms may also fluctuate in severity or relapse over time, according to the World Health Organization.

Cognitive dysfunction is one of the more alarming common long COVID symptoms. An April 2021 study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that a large number of COVID patients reported a variety of problems, including anxiety, depression, brain fog, and memory loss.

Another problem is tinnitus, which causes ringing in the ears.

Many long COVID sufferers have also reported cardiovascular problems. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Dr. Wendy Post, COVID-19 can damage the heart muscle and affect the heart’s ability to function. “After you have had COVID-19, if you are experiencing a rapid heartbeat or palpitations you should contact your doctor,” Dr. Post wrote in a blog post.

Other long COVID symptoms are more rare, but have occurred with enough frequency that experts say they should be reported to a doctor if noticed within months of contracting the coronavirus. According to a July study published by The Lancet, patients with long COVID have reported more than 200 different symptoms.

Earlier this month, Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey issued a report saying many people have experienced excessive hair loss after contracting the virus and recovering from its primary symptoms. This was reinforced by dermatologists in Texas who reported a growing number of patients who experienced hair loss after having COVID.

And long-term effects of COVID impact patients of all ages. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published last month found that children and teens are more likely to be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a month or more after being infected with COVID, compared to those who did not previously have COVID.

What’s being done?

Currently, there’s no cure for long COVID, and researchers are still learning about how it impacts the body.

In the U.S., Congress announced in February 2021 that it would provide the National Institutes of Health with over $1.15 billion over the next four years for research into the long-term effects of contracting COVID-19. The studies aim to discover the underlying causes of long COVID and different ways to treat and prevent it.