COVID-19 has presented health officials across the globe with challenges related to the disease, including determining how it will impact those who suffer from it in the long term. COVID-19 has presented serious complications for people of various ages, including pneumonia, organ damage, organ failure, and death. As we learn more about COVID-19 and its immediate impacts, more is coming to light about the long term effects it will have on the body.
Damage to the lungs
One of the biggest concerns of doctors is the damage to the lungs that COVID-19 can cause. Respiratory infections can cause patients to suffer from a cough that lasts between days to months. Respiratory infections can cause lasting damage to the lungs, including the development of asthma and even shortness of breath well after the patient has recovered from the illness.
Patients who suffer from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) are more likely to develop fibrosis or permanent lung damage. Patients with ARDS most often require the use of a ventilator in the hospital to survive.
The brain stem
Results from studies conducted in China of COVID-19 patients are starting to show that the brain stem can be impacted by the virus. In fact, a study published in JAMA Neurology discovered that 36.4 percent of people studied had developed neurological problems. Despite the results of this study, there isn’t enough data yet to determine the long term effects on the brain stem from COVID-19, but it’s something worth studying.
Post-intensive care syndrome
Many COVID-19 patients are being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) when they need to be on a ventilator. Some spend weeks in the ICU, while others spend months in the ICU. As a result of such extended stays, patients can develop post-intensive care syndrome. These patients suffer from an increased risk of developing mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, significant cognitive impairment, and a limited ability to perform physical activities.
Dr. Gary Weinstein is a pulmonologist/critical care medicine specialist from the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas:
Post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) is used to describe patients who have survived a severe critical illness, along with the intensive care required to survive. Patients can have some combination of physical impairment, cognitive impairment, and psychiatric impairment. Physical impairments that can occur include weakness and malnutrition. Cognitive impairment can include decreased memory, decreased attention, and decreased mental sharpness or the ability to solve problems.
Kidney disease is another serious concern of doctors at hospitals across the country. At the onset of the pandemic, hospitals were asking for ventilators. Now, hospitals are seeing an increased need for dialysis machines as more and more COVID-19 patients are having issues with their blood sugar.
Yale cardiologist Dr. Harlan Krumholz said, “The direct action of the virus, the reaction of the body, the fluctuations in people’s conditions and blood pressure and the medications we use, all of these things can come together to affect the kidneys in ways that make it more difficult for people to recover and can put them in a difficult position when they do.”
Damage to the heart
A recent study of COVID-19 patients in China found that 20 percent of patients had exhibited some form of damage to their heart while in the hospital. A separate study discovered that 16 percent of patients suffered from arrhythmia. Other reports from hospitals included patients suffering from cardiac arrest, heart attack, and acute onset heart failure.
Impacts on the nervous system
COVID-19 is no different from other coronaviruses, which is why doctors and scientists aren’t surprised that it has affected the nervous system of infected patients. A recent study discovered that 36 percent of 214 patients in China suffered impairment of smell and taste, dizziness, and headaches.
Additional health impacts
Patients across the globe have experienced many of the following additional health impacts that can leave lasting damage on the body:
- Blood clots
- Pulmonary embolisms
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Male infertility