Life After COVID-19: A Patient's Ongoing Journey

Life After COVID-19: A Patient's Ongoing Journey

This article is for people who've had coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and their caregivers, or anyone who wants to learn more about COVID-19. The goal of this patient education activity is to improve the knowledge of patients and caregivers about recovery from COVID-19.

You will learn about:

  • What COVID-19 is and how it affects the body

  • Symptoms that may happen after COVID-19

  • Making a recovery care plan with your doctor

  • Questions to ask your doctor

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Test Your Knowledge

COVID-19: The Basics

COVID-19 is caused by a type of virus called a coronavirus. Exposure to the virus can cause an infection that usually starts in the upper respiratory tract (nose, sinuses, and throat).

COVID-19 is caused by a new (or novel) coronavirus. This means that people haven't been exposed to this virus before, making COVID-19 a new disease for humans.

It is thought that COVID-19 is mainly spread by droplets in the air that form when someone who's infected talks, coughs, or sneezes. The virus then infects someone else when the droplets enter their mouth, nose, or eyes.

How COVID-19 Symptoms May Appear

Not everyone who gets COVID-19 will have symptoms. But for those who do, they are often mild. Some people, however, can have symptoms that are severe.

When symptoms do appear, it's usually 2 days to 2 weeks after exposure.

Main symptoms include:

  • Fever (temperature over 100°F)

  • Chills, sometimes with shaking

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

  • Fatigue (tiredness)

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headache

  • Loss of taste or smell

  • Sore throat

  • Congestion (stuffy) or runny nose

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Pain in your abdomen (belly)

Are You at a Higher Risk for Severe Illness?

For most people, COVID-19 is mild. But it can also cause severe illness and even death. 

Anyone can get COVID-19, but it is especially dangerous for elderly people. Having certain conditions could also put adults, no matter what their age is, at a higher risk.

These include:

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity or being overweight

  • Certain heart or blood vessel conditions

  • High blood pressure

  • Cancer

  • Chronic (long-term) kidney disease

  • Certain lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or moderate to severe asthma

  • Liver disease

  • Nerve and brain conditions, including dementia

  • A weakened immune system

People who smoke or are pregnant could also be at a higher risk. 

Not Just a Lung Disease

In addition to your lungs, COVID-19 can cause damage to other organs and systems in your body. This can lead to many different complications, or additional problems.

This damage may also increase your risk for complications that can last long term, such as problems with: 

  • Breathing and how your lungs work

  • Heart, blood vessels, and kidneys

  • Sleep, mood, and fatigue

  • Thinking, concentration, or memory

  • Smell and taste

Can You Have Symptoms After COVID-19?

Most people recover from COVID-19 in a few weeks. But some -- even those who just had mild disease -- can have symptoms for weeks or months after they've recovered. Older people and people with serious medical conditions are most likely to have ongoing symptoms. But even younger adults and people with no other medical conditions can have them.

The most common are:

  • Fatigue

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest or joint pain

Others include:

  • Headache

  • Muscle pain

  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (heart palpitations)

  • Problems with thinking and concentration (brain fog)

Mark talks about his personal experience with getting COVID-19, his journey to recovery, and his symptoms that remain even months later.

Your Recovery Care Plan: Paving the Way

It's important to make a recovery care plan with your doctor so they can track your progress. COVID-19 is still a new disease, so it's not known exactly how having it will affect someone in the long run, including who will have long-term effects or symptoms that remain, and how long they will last. While most people recover fairly quickly from COVID-19, if you're still having symptoms, you're not alone.

How sick you were or weren't with COVID-19 may not predict how your recovery will go. It can have a range of effects that can be different for different people, so your doctor will tailor a recovery care plan to fit your particular needs.

Your Recovery Care Plan: Partnering With Your Doctor

Doctors are learning more about COVID-19 every day. Be sure to keep in regular contact so they can check how your organs are working and your overall health. It may be helpful to record any symptoms that remain or come back -- even those that come and go -- in a journal or diary so you can discuss them.

Also talk to your doctor about your mental well-being and your mood. Feeling stressed or depressed can happen, and your doctor can let you know about available resources and support that can help.

Together, you and your doctor can find the right recovery care plan for you.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Questions you can ask your doctor about COVID-19 and recovery can include:

  • How can COVID-19 affect my body, both in the short term and the long term?

  • What should I do if symptoms stay or come back?

  • What can I do to help my health during and after recovery?

  • Are there any lifestyle changes I should make?

  • What should I do if I feel stressed or depressed?

  • Are there resources or support available? 

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program: Life After COVID-19: A Patient's Ongoing Journey

View Additional Materials

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -- CDC

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -- NIH

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Advice for the Public

What to Do if You Are Sick

When You Can Be Around Others After You Had or Likely Had COVID-19

Long-Term Effects of COVID-19

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD

Senior Director, Learning & Development, Medscape, LLC Disclosure: Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Senior Scientific Content Manager, Medscape, LLC Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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