Patients experiencing long-term health issues after COVID-19 recovery

Local News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – “It’s August and I’m still feeling chest pains I’m still feeling shortness of breath, my energy levels not back to 100 percent,” said John Woods.

He works at Research Triangle High School and was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March.

“I didn’t call my primary health physician until my lung hurt so badly to breath that I was afraid I couldn’t take my next breath in,” said Wood.

Almost five months later, Wood said he’s about 80 to 90 percent recovered.

“It’s proving to be difficult to resume life completely as normal,” said Wood.

He’s a sports official and was used to an active lifestyle. He’d had weight loss surgery last year in an effort be healthier and live longer for his family. Wood said it now feels like he’s starting from scratch, working his health up to what it once was.

“You look at stairs and it’s like there’s no way I’m going to make it through this. But I’m alive and some people don’t have that benefit of that having suffered from COVID. I’m happy to be here,” he said.

Wood is not alone in his prolonged symptoms.

“I do worry that some people may have longer term consequences,” said Dr. David Wohl, professor of medicine infectious disease division at UNC Chapel Hill

Those long term effects are something doctors are starting to notice.

“You can put out the fire but the forest is not back to normal for a long time,” said Dr. Wohl.

“I guess its an asterisk besides recovered,” said Wood.

Dr. Wohl said early research shows potential long term issues with the heart, kidney, even the brain.

“They’re dealing with not just the lung problems but dealing with other organ damage so that’s very, very real. More and more of our folks are having to go to rehab or get them home health,” said Dr Wohl.

However he said it’s now becoming clear there is a shortage of home health workers. While those workers are already helping their normal patients. There is now an influx of COVID-19 recovered patients who are increasing demand for those workers.

Dr. Wohl said the health system may need to consider clinics specially designed to help recovered patients with long standing issues.

“They may be different from other people that we see,” he said.

Dr. Wohl was part of the response effort of Ebola in Africa. He says he’s now researching survivors for long-term impacts of that virus.

With the newness of this virus, it’s still unclear exactly what patients could feel even six months down the road from COVID-19.

Impacts on the brain

The American Psychological Association reports COVID-19 survivors have reported fatigue, brain fog, and sleep disturbance. They said some are reporting symptoms of PTSD because of their time in a hospital or intensive care unit.

Research from University College London found increase likelihoods of delirium, brain inflammation and stroke. A study of 43 people found:

  • 10 cases of temporary brain dysfunction with delirium
  • 12 cases of brain inflammation
  • 8 cases of strokes
  • 8 cases of nerve damage, mainly Guillain-Barré syndrome

Impacts on the heart

A research study from JAMA Cardiology took a look at 100 patients recently recovered from COVID-19. Of those 78 patients were found to have abnormal cardiovascular magnetic resonance images. Sixty had ongoing myocardial inflammation in 60 patients.

John Hopkins Medicine noted in a report that the body’s own immune system response to a virus can damage and inflamed the heart. An infection could also affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

Impacts on the kidney

The National Kidney Foundation reported back in May that acute kidney injury was happening in about 15 percent of all hospitalized COVID-19 patients. They said many of those patients are now in need of dialysis. For patients who were admitted into the ICU, 20 percent lost kidney function.

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