The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the daily lives of many, and may even continue to do so due to long-haul symptoms. As time has progressed, many people have realized that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have more of an effect on the body than just immediate respiratory issues and flu-like symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms of long COVID include unexplained fatigue, malaise, and brain fog — a collection of symptoms more commonly referred to as COVID fatigue. Healthcare providers and researchers are still learning more about how the COVID-19 infection affects the body and how to treat the virus and its lasting effects.
Below is a closer look at what you can expect with COVID fatigue and some ways you can help your body recover from it.
When people think of COVID and its symptoms, they typically think of the immediate symptoms present when an individual's immune system is initially fighting off the viral infection.
The most common symptoms people experience from the initial infection can include:
For people that make a full recovery from COVID, these symptoms tend to resolve themselves.
But some, such as fatigue, may linger for much longer. COVID fatigue is a long-haul condition that some people develop after the initial infection.
According to the CDC, individuals who experienced severe COVID symptoms, who did not receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and who have preexisting health conditions are at a higher risk for developing post-COVID conditions like COVID fatigue.
However, anyone who has recently recovered from COVID can be susceptible to long-haul symptoms.
COVID fatigue can impact energy levels, physical activity, and daily activities, making it difficult for people to live a normal life. This, compounded with COVID fatigue’s impact on mental health, can make it a difficult condition to manage and live with. In fact, this long-haul COVID condition can be classified as a disability under the ADA.
Long COVID symptoms like fatigue have only been around for a few years now. It is still not known how long these symptoms can persist, but it seems to vary significantly from person to person.
Some individuals can have long-term effects like fatigue that resolve in a matter of weeks following initial COVID recovery, while others may experience fatigue long after the initial infection has subsided.
While the exact pathological cause of COVID fatigue is not understood, several prevailing theories may help explain why individuals experience chronic tiredness, fatigue, and brain fog following COVID.
Below is a closer look at some factors that may contribute to COVID fatigue.
COVID-19 is primarily known as a respiratory infectious disease, as the virus is primarily transmitted through respiratory pathogens, and the lungs and respiratory system tend to be the most significantly impacted system in the body.
One of the ways that COVID-19 may cause fatigue is by damaging the respiratory system.
The respiratory system plays a vital function within the body. It acts as a place of gas exchange between blood and air from the environment. A damaged respiratory system can decrease the efficiency of this gas exchange and make it much more difficult for your body to get the oxygen it needs to function.
COVID-19 may also cause disruptions to the digestive system, as diarrhea is a common symptom experienced with COVID. Disruptions in the gastrointestinal system may cause fatigue since they can cause the body to use extra energy to digest food or inhibit nutrient absorption.
When the gastrointestinal tract doesn’t absorb nutrients properly, it can contribute to feelings of fatigue. This is similar to other malabsorptive conditions like gut inflammation, which has been considered a cause of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Your nervous system plays a large role in your overall cognitive abilities and consciousness. Trillions of neural connections allow you to have conscious thought, process information, and recall information stored in memory.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus mainly impacts tissues such as the lungs, but the widespread cytokines-mediated immune response of the body may impact other body systems, including the brain.
Many cases have reported individuals experiencing brain fog, memory problems, headaches, and other symptoms that closely resemble myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
While long COVID-19 syndromes like COVID fatigue do exist, there are important clarifications for what constitutes long-term symptoms versus so-called “normal” symptoms. Below is a closer look at some symptoms of post-COVID-19 fatigue and how they may differ from the acute symptoms of COVID-19.
Constantly feeling tired can have an immense impact on your overall quality of life and ability to perform day-to-day activities, and it is one of the most common symptoms associated with COVID fatigue.
One of the most common causes of commonplace tiredness and reduced energy levels is a lack of sleep. Chronic tiredness is unique in that, despite getting a good night’s sleep, you still feel tired.
This is distinguished from COVID-related fatigue in that most people feel fatigued while their immune system is fighting against an active infection. Post-COVID fatigue persists well after the infection has subsided.
People with COVID fatigue may also experience muscle weakness. Most people experience muscle aches and weakness while they are sick, but these symptoms may persist even after recovering from the initial COVID infection with COVID fatigue.
Having persistent muscle weakness can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks and can cause a decline in physical activity. Diminished physical activity can, in turn, have a negative impact on your health and leave you feeling even lousier.
One rare symptom that may be associated with post-COVID fatigue is slowed or diminished reflexes. The activation of the immune system in some individuals may cause an autoimmune condition in which the body misidentifies the nervous system as a foreign invader, leading to nervous system damage.
This condition is more commonly referred to as Guillain-Barré syndrome and has occurred in case reports following COVID. Some of these patients experienced long-term changes to their reflexes and nervous functioning following a COVID infection.
COVID fatigue is a condition that many people have experienced in the past few years. While a number of people experience these long-haul symptoms, there is currently no definitive treatment option for it.
While there is no cure, there are a number of things that people can do to find some relief and support their bodies in a way that minimizes fatigue.
Below is a closer look at some ways you may be able to achieve some relief from COVID fatigue.
While COVID fatigue tends to be present even with good sleep, it is a good idea to cover all your bases. Experts recommend that adults get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted quality rest each night.
Taking actions like creating a nighttime routine to foster good sleep, staying consistent with your sleep schedule, and maintaining proper room temperature and lighting can all help improve your sleep quality.
Rehabilitation like that offered by Carda Health may also help support your body when recovering from COVID and associated long-term symptoms.
Carda health offers virtual at-home cardiac rehabilitation that includes monitored exercise, dietary guidance, health education, and mental health education to help people improve their circulatory health, which may support recovery from certain health conditions.
When recovering from long-haul symptoms of COVID, virtual at-home monitored exercise and professional guidance from an exercise physiologist may be beneficial in improving your energy levels. Additionally, taking your nutrition seriously and focusing on living a healthier lifestyle may provide your body with the support it needs to have a more normal level of energy each day.
At the end of the day, COVID-19 has impacted the world in a number of ways. For some, it continues to affect them in the form of long-haul symptoms like COVID fatigue.
At present, the exact cause and the best way of treating these lingering symptoms are not entirely known. However, as time progresses and more research is done, there may be more definitive ways of recovering from these symptoms in the future.
Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions | CDC.gov
Guidance on “Long COVID” as a Disability Under the ADA, Section | HHS.gov
Gut inflammation in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) | NCBI
Understanding myalgic encephalomyelitis | Science
Neurological Manifestations of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2): A Review | Frontiers Neurology