Sandeep Sharma*, 53, who was battling Covid, was relieved when his RT-PCR report came negative on May 15. But today, more than a month later, he still suffers from lack of sleep, and body ache, and experiences shortness of breath after a little physical activity.
Same is the case with Kusum Vasudev*, 24, who was declared Covid negative on May 02, but still suffers from recurring headaches, while her sense of taste has not returned fully.
“I even have problems remembering things. I really had to rack my brain to recollect the phone numbers of my parents and sister, which were earlier on my fingertips,” she says, adding that the doctor has told her it will take time for her to get rid of these issues.
Both Sharma and Vasudev are facing a condition that doctors call Post Covid Syndrome or Long Covid. First seen in social support groups, Long Covid or Post-Covid Syndrome (PCS) is not much understood.
Why? Because it impacts Covid survivors across all age groups, and does not depend on how severe or mild the disease has been for them.
Though symptoms like breathlessness, persistent cough, joint and muscle pain, tiredness, hearing and eyesight issues, headaches, memory problem, loss of smell and taste are visible, it is the effect on internal organs, gastro-intestinal and cardiac problems that present greater cause for concern.
“PCS can include signs of severe diseases like Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS) and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). So, none of the symptoms should be taken lightly,” says Dr Ashish Gupta, Senior Consultant, Critical Care Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Apollo Spectra Karol Bagh, Delhi.
Stating that ignoring any symptom can be fatal, Dr Gupta advises that a Covid recovered patient experiencing any abnormal change in the body must immediately consult a doctor.
“Some post-Covid conditions may happen as an after-effect of treatment or hospitalisation, such as post-intensive care syndrome (PICS), including severe weakness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The treatment is largely based on the particular condition and we are yet to gather enough evidence to tell how long these may persist,” says Dr Gyan Bharti, Pulmonologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad. So far, the hospital has received over 300 PCS patients.
“During the second wave, people below 40 were found to be more affected by PCS,” says Dr Bharti.
Dr Nanditha CN Gowda, Consultant- General Medicine, Apollo TeleHealth, informs that studies indicate PCS lasts for more than a year in some patients.
“The worst thing is that everyone, young or old, is susceptible to it. So far, we have seen more than 20 patients with post-Covid syndrome at our hospital,” says Dr Gowda.
Agreeing that it can affect any age group, Dr Bhumesh Tyagi, Senior Consultant, General Medicine, Sharda Hospital, Greater Noida, points out that people with co-morbidities, chronic lung, heart, kidney diseases or those who suffer from malignancies are more prone to PCS.
“We see around 8-10 patients of PCS in our OPD daily,” he says, adding that even those who did not have symptoms when infected can have PCS. Also, the symptoms may appear immediately after or several weeks later, he adds.
“Studies are underway to understand the complete profile of PCS. As of now, each Covid-recovered patient must keep a close watch on the body and consult a doctor if faced with any discomfort to avoid any further complications,” says Dr Gowda.
So, getting a negative RT-PCR is not a reason to throw caution to wind, say doctors. All recovered patients must also strictly adhere to Covid protocol of masking, social distancing, hand sanitizing and stay away from crowded places to avoid Post Covid Syndrome (PCS).
(*Names changed to protect identity)
COMMON PCS SYMPTOMS
Chest tightness, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, lack of concentration.
Less common PCS symptoms.
Muscle pains, joint pains, palpitations, dizziness, lightheadedness, tingling/ pain in fingers and toes, anxiety, depression, headache, skin rashes.