Even though most of us are still sheltering in place in an attempt to lessen the immediate spread and most severe health consequences of COVID-19, it is not too soon to start considering possible long-term health impacts that may arise in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Because the virus affects many organs and systems within the body – from the lungs and cardiovascular system to the liver, kidneys and likely the brain – it now appears likely that at least some patients will suffer long-term physical symptoms. These long-term and even permanent problems may result from the virus itself, the body’s own immune response or even medical interventions, especially respirators, or a combination of all these factors. But whatever the cause, doctors are already seeing heart damage, kidney and liver damage and, unsurprisingly, lung scarring and damage in a number of COVID-19 patients who are no longer actively infected.
And these are still early days. Some patients present during the illness with serious neurologic problems such as strokes and encephalitis, as well as other more mild neurologic symptoms such as dizziness, headache and loss of smell. There have been reports of some patients suffering from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an auto-immune disease where the immune system responds to an infection by mistakenly attacking the body’s own nerve cells. It seems possible that at least some of these patients may continue to suffer neurologic and autoimmune issues, and related pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties for at least some time.