While the short-term effects of COVID are now well known, the future for patients is still murky.
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A new study by doctors at Northwestern University is shedding some concerning light on how long those aftereffects may last.
Long COVID can be debilitating and lasts for an average of 15 months, according to researchers at Northwestern Medicine's long COVID clinic.
"About 80% of the patients who come to the clinic have never been hospitalized for COVID-19 and they are mainly females in their 40s," said Dr. Igor Koralnik, one of the study's senior authors.
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A few years shy of 40, 36-year-old Emily Caffee is a competitive rower and physical therapist. She was in the process of training six days a week for a rowing competition when she got COVID at the beginning of the pandemic. Four weeks later, she developed crushing fatigue, brain fog and rapid variations in blood pressure and heart rate
"I went from being a very active person to barely being able to stand for five minutes without getting so acutely dizzy, having zero standing tolerance," Caffee said.
Caffe said her symptoms were so debilitating she took medical leave from her job for several months.
"I say I'm 90 to 95% better, but there are still symptoms that linger and I don't feel like my old self," Caffee said.
While there is not a specific diagnostic test for long COVID, Northwestern doctors say long COVID develops about 4 weeks after the initial infection. The most common persistent symptoms are headaches, dizziness, fatigue and brain fog.
"I was hearing about patients who are fully practicing lawyers and now they can't even look at a license plate and remember it 5 seconds later," researcher Sareen Ali said.
Researchers say most non-hospitalized long haulers were previously healthy people before they developed COVID, and recovery from long COVID varies.
"You have people who improve tremendously over time," Koralnick said, "you have people who stay flat, and you have people who unfortunately crash later on."
Doctors say 30% of COVID patients may get long COVID and so far, research shows vaccines are neutral when it comes to symptoms and how long long COVID lasts.