Why Medical Experts Still Find Long COVID To Be Such A Mystery

For some people, the struggles and challenges that come with having COVID are just the beginning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are some who can continue to suffer symptoms even after the virus itself has passed. These symptoms can include, but are not limited to, fatigue, chest pain, heart palpitations, and the dreaded brain fog that can impair a person's ability to think or concentrate.

What causes this condition, sometimes referred to as long COVID, remains something of an enigma. According to scientists at the Irving Medical Center at Columbia University, there are some theories that long COVID could be caused by persistent inflammation caused by the initial virus. They also think it could be the result of the initial virus going into a brief dormancy, only to resurface later. One other theory is that COVID may actually have the ability to reactivate other viruses in the body, such as the Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis), and that what patients experience as long COVID is actually these other viruses coming back.

Scientists still don't know what long COVID is

Long COVID continues to present a problem for patients who have dealt with the COVID virus, with the latest data from the CDC showing that nearly one in five adults who have had COVID are continuing to experience long COVID symptoms. However, so much about the condition, from diagnosis to treatment methods, continues to baffle doctors and researchers.

One reason the condition is proving to be so elusive is that it's very difficult to pin down one agreed-upon definition for what long COVID is. For doctors treating post-COVID patients, it's hard to know if what they are treating is an extension of COVID, or a number of other conditions that are being grouped together and dubbed "long COVID." In addition, there are currently more than 200 different symptoms being reported as being connected to long COVID, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which makes it a very broad condition that's difficult to narrow down.

Diagnosis of long COVID is also tricky

Another factor that is making long COVID troublesome for doctors and researchers is that it is difficult to diagnose. Unlike COVID itself, there is no specific test in place for the symptoms of long COVID. Because of this, a lot of people who are suffering from long COVID symptoms are sometimes uncertain of how to get treatment (per WebMD).

For people suffering from long COVID, it's also hard to know how long their symptoms will linger, because the condition hasn't been around long enough for researchers to make a proper determination. However, according to the WHO, there are some guidelines in place that can help patients still suffering from symptoms more than four weeks after contracting COVID. The guidelines suggest physical exercise as a way of regaining stamina and battling the depressive effects of the condition. They also suggest having a regular spot for your keys and setting alerts and reminders on your phone as a means of dealing with the effects of brain fog. These techniques, as well as working with a doctor to manage symptoms, can go a long way to helping patients cope with long COVID until more of its mysteries are solved.