Long COVID Is Really Long—and Enigmatic

Health experts are flummoxed by diagnosing, treating this type of illness
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2022 5:55 PM CDT
Updated Jun 19, 2022 10:00 PM CDT
Long COVID Patients Find Few Answers
Gary Miller, a long COVID patient, receives treatment from physiotherapist Joan Del Arco last year at the Long COVID Clinic at King George Hospital in Ilford, London.   (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

In her two years of battling COVID-19, Lindsay Polega has been referred to, in order: an immunologist, cardiologist, nephrologist, endocrinologist, neurologist, then the immunologist again. Still, she's dealing with a list of symptoms including chest pain, hypertensive spikes, and hand numbness. Scrolling on her cellphone has caused vertigo, and she became sensitive to light. Polega goes to appointment after appointment, but medical experts don't know what to tell the 28-year-old, who was healthy until she contracted the coronavirus for the first of three times, the Washington Post reports. A recent piece in the New England Journal of Medicine was not reassuring for Polega and others with similar health problems. "The cohort of patients with long COVID will face a difficult and tortuous experience with our multispecialty, organ-focused health care system," it read.

Polega can attest to that. The nation's health care system is not set up for a murky illness without a definite cause or test but more than 200 documented symptoms. Between 10% and 30% of the more than 425 million people who have been infected will have long COVID symptoms months after recovering from that first bout, researchers say. At this rate, people contending with long COVID will be trying to find solutions by bouncing among doctors while collecting diagnoses, as Polega is. At one point, a doctor without answers suggested she isolate at home indefinitely. "I wonder, 'Is this going to be the rest of my life?'" Polega said. "I can't live in my room forever. That's not a good answer. That's not treatment."

A long COVID clinic opened near her home in Florida, and Polega sent over all her information about what doctors called her strange, complex case with its confusing test results. Still, she was encouraged by the understanding she found and underwent more tests, per the Post. They didn't find much. "We had to adjust to the new reality that these patients are chronically ill, and the answers will not be there today," said Fernando Carnavali of New York's Mount Sinai Center for Post-COVID Care. "This is a very difficult and shocking concept to adapt to, especially for a previously healthy person." Last New Year's Eve, Polega wrote an end-of-year letter to family and friends. Referring to "my young body that has somehow aged years in less than 2" as "we," she told them, "We're tired." (More long COVID stories.)

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