At this point in the pandemic, there’s a good chance you have already had COVID at least once. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60 percent of all Americans had been infected with the coronavirus by Feb. 2022. But while some just experienced a few days with a sore throat, others have had COVID symptoms that linger for weeks or even months. This persisting problem is known as long COVID and covers a wide range of long-term health conditions, including fatigue, fever, and brain fog, per the CDC. As it turns out, the post-COVID conditions you are more likely to experience with long COVID may differ depending on your age. Read on to find out what coronavirus symptoms might not go away if you’re over 50.
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Researchers are working to learn more about the lingering effects of COVID. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), it is estimated that anywhere from 7 to 23 million people in the country have already developed long COVID. This may not be the full scope of the problem, however, as long COVID is not always easy to diagnose.
“There is no test to diagnose post-COVID conditions, and people may have a wide variety of symptoms that could come from other health problems. This can make it difficult for healthcare providers to recognize post-COVID conditions,” the CDC explains. “Your healthcare provider considers a diagnosis of post-COVID conditions based on your health history, including if you had a diagnosis of COVID-19 either by a positive test or by symptoms or exposure, as well as doing a health examination.”
Anyone can get hit with long COVID, but “post-COVID conditions are found more often in people who had severe COVID-19 illness,” according to the CDC. The agency reports that more than 30 percent of people who were hospitalized from their infection were still experiencing post-COVID conditions after six months.
With that in mind, the impact of long-term COVID symptoms is likely strongest on those more prone to severe COVID, like older adults over the age of 50. “Definitely people who already had mobility issues or who are older, and those who are hospitalized are at risk,” Priya Duggal, PhD, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told AARP.
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In May, AARP released a national survey looking at the toll of long COVID on people over the age of 50. Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 adults 50 years or older in late March, and according to the survey, nearly three in 10 people in this age group have suffered with lingering effects from a COVID infection but have not sought medical attention.
AARP also found that adults 50 and older reported similar persisting problems from the coronavirus. According to the survey, the most common long COVID symptoms for this age group were fatigue at 57 percent, cough at 34 percent, and cognitive problems like brain fog at 31 percent. Also in the top five of most frequent lingering effects were shortness of breath at 26 percent and difficulty concentrating at 25 percent.
The CDC also recognizes a number of other possible long COVID symptoms. These include—but are not limited to—chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, change in smell or taste, stomach pain, and rash. At the same time, Greg Vanichkachorn, MD, a family physician and medicine specialist with the Mayo Clinic, told AARP that the symptoms themselves are really only “half the picture.” He added, “The other half is how those symptoms really have changed a person’s ability to live their normal lives.”
While viruses can always cause prolonged illness for some patients, the impact of lingering symptoms from the coronavirus seem to be more widespread and stronger. “We’ve had patients complain of fatigue after a viral infection before … but patients after coronavirus infection, they really have some profound fatigue,” Vanichkachorn explained, adding that this means routine tasks like “going to work” are affected. According to AARP’s survey, one-third of adults 50 and older who had lingering COVID-related symptoms said their job was impacted in some way as a result of their long COVID.
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