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What Can Happen After You Get COVID-19

What Can Happen After You Get COVID-19

This article is for people who want to learn more about COVID-19. The goal of this activity is to help you work with and talk to your doctor about care during and after COVID-19.

You will learn about:

  • What COVID-19 is and how the virus can affect the body

  • What long COVID is and its symptoms

  • COVID-19 and new health conditions that can happen

  • Talking to your doctor about COVID-19 and your health

Certain medicines listed in this activity may have either a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval or have been given an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA to treat or prevent COVID-19.

The information on COVID-19 is continually changing. The content in this activity is accurate based on the information that was available at the time of its publication. This resource is provided for educational and informational purposes only. We do not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Test Your Knowledge

COVID-19

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

Anyone can get COVID-19 at any age. Many people will have mild illness or no symptoms and recover fairly quickly. But for some, COVID-19 can be severe and even deadly. It can be especially dangerous for people who have certain health conditions. If you're 50 or older or haven't been vaccinated, you're also more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.

COVID-19 and Your Immune System

In order to replicate (make more viruses), a virus will attach to and enter, or infect, your healthy cells. This often severely damages or kills the cells.

When you're exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, your immune system -- your body's natural defense system -- will work to help protect you by activating special proteins called antibodies. Antibodies are then released into your blood to attack the virus and help you fight off infection.

But the virus that causes COVID-19 can still damage many different organs and systems in your body. Because of this, you can have long-lasting symptoms, complications (additional problems), and post-COVID conditions.

How COVID-19 Can Affect You in the Long Run

Post-COVID conditions, or "long COVID," are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that you can have for weeks, months, or even longer after first being infected. They tend to happen more often if you had severe illness, but anyone who was infected can have them. Even people who only had mild COVID-19 or no symptoms at all and those who never tested positive or knew they were infected in the first place.

If you aren't vaccinated against COVID-19 and get infected, you might also be at higher risk of post-COVID conditions compared to if you were vaccinated and got a breakthrough infection.

Symptoms of Long COVID

Long COVID can be different for different people. There are a wide range of symptoms, some of which can last for weeks or months. Some may even go away and then come back again.

Long COVID can also greatly affect your health and quality of life. General, overall symptoms can include fatigue (tiredness) that disrupts your daily activities and symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (called post-exertional malaise).

Symptoms of Long COVID (cont)

Other common symptoms can include:

  • Fever

  • Problems breathing, shortness of breath, cough

  • Headache, dizziness, chest pain, a fast heartbeat

  • Feelings of pins and needles

  • Problems thinking or concentrating or "brain fog"

  • Change in taste or smell

  • Diarrhea, stomach pain

  • Sleep problems

  • Depression, anxiety

  • Rash

  • Joint or muscle pain

  • Changes in your period (menstrual cycle)

For most people, symptoms can get better over time. But for some, symptoms can last and cause disability.

Diagnosing Long COVID

Most people who have COVID-19 recover in a few days or weeks. So at least 4 weeks after infection is the start of when post-COVID conditions or long COVID can typically be seen.

But unlike testing for a current infection, there is no test to check for long COVID, which can make it tough for a doctor to diagnose or identify. So your doctor will look at if you’ve had or may have been exposed to COVID-19, all your symptoms -- including those that may be from other health conditions -- and your health history.

Talking to Your Doctor

While post-COVID conditions may happen less often in children and teens, anyone can have long COVID, long-lasting symptoms, and complications at any age. So whether you've had COVID-19, know you've been exposed, or just aren't sure, if you or your child are having any symptoms, talk to your doctor. Together, you can make a treatment plan to help relieve symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Ankur talks about his experiences with getting COVID-19 and his personal journey with having long COVID.

COVID-19 and New Health Conditions

Because the virus that causes COVID-19 can damage many different organs and systems in your body, you can also develop new health conditions after having COVID-19. So talking to your doctor about your overall health is important.

These new health conditions can include:

  • Autoimmune conditions where your immune system attacks your own healthy tissues by mistake. Symptoms may last for weeks or months, especially if you had severe COVID-19

  • Diabetes or heart, brain, and nerve conditions. COVID-19 can affect many organs and systems in your body such as your heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain. Because of these "multiorgan effects," if you've had COVID-19 you may be more likely to develop new health conditions compared to if you didn't have it

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Questions you can ask your doctor and healthcare team can include:

  • What should I do if I get COVID-19?

  • Am I at a higher risk for severe illness?

  • How will I know if I have long COVID?

  • If I get long COVID, what can we do to help relieve my symptoms and protect my quality of life?

  • Can I get any other health conditions because of COVID-19?

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

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge

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Congratulations!

You have successfully completed the program What Can Happen After You Get COVID-19.

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

About COVID-19

Understanding Your Risk

Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions

Caring for People Who Have Post-COVID Conditions

PDF Downloads

Patient Handout

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has no relevant financial relationships.

Editor

Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.

Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.

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