While the world is still grappling with a staggering amount of COVID cases, there are additional problems that are being observed amidst the ongoing crisis. Many patients seem to have post-viral fatigue, among other symptoms after having successfully recovered. “The lingering symptoms seem to add to the disease burden. Patients require special attention for these symptoms as it involves the requirement of rehabilitation and chronic care in the aftermath of having the disease,” said Dr Pragnya Rao of MFine.
A recent study on post-COVID manifestation of symptoms showed that only 10.8 percent of survivors assessed in the study had no symptoms or manifestations post COVID. About 72 percent of participants had major complaints of fatigue (similar to post-SARS fatigue) and the rest, a small percentage had critical manifestations such as lung fibrosis, kidney failure, myocarditis and stroke.
This only makes it imperative for us to be more aware of the scope of multi-organ impact that the virus can have after it has left the body. The presence of post-COVID symptoms and complications can significantly increase the time spent in a hospital/away from work. Here are six organs and organ systems that can be affected due to COVID-19, leading to lingering symptoms and signs after recovery, also dubbed as “Post COVID syndrome”:
Post-COVID respiratory system: A few patients who recover from COVID-19 tend to complain of persistent fatigue, shortness of breath and the need to take deep breaths, hindering their abilities to complete even little routine tasks. This could possibly be due to the long-standing damage to the air sacs and lung tissue. The scars formed in the lung as a result of the inflammatory changes during the disease can lead to long-term breathing problems.
Post-COVID heart and blood vessels: “It would be fair to say that the post-COVID effects on the heart and the circulatory system can be life-threatening and difficult to treat, especially in patients with pre-existing heart diseases. Doctors have observed that even after having tested negative for COVID-19, patients have had chronic fatigue, abnormal heart rate, palpitations, chest pain and lasting heart muscle damage (as seen on imaging studies). This contributes to a rise in the risk of developing heart failure and other complications like cardiomyopathy,” she said.
The other important observation made in patients with COVID-19 is the formation of blood clots- while large clots can directly contribute to heart attacks and strokes, the smaller clots can travel to end organs like the liver, kidney, etc and cause significant organ damage.
Post-COVID kidneys: Another rising problem is the low kidney function that is observed in hospitalised patients and even in those who have been discharged. The presence of high blood pressure and diabetes further enhances the risk of developing kidney dysfunction post-COVID.
Patients have had low urine output, infrequent urination, and sometimes, the damage has been extensive enough to require dialysis. The kidney damage, which is being observed even in younger patients or those with no history of kidney disease, is largely attributed to direct attack by the virus, low blood oxygen levels, cytokine storm and blood clots that might clog the kidneys.
Post-COVID liver: Liver injury is a consequence of viral replication and damage to the hepatic tissue during the infection. Patients admitted for moderate to severe COVID-19 have been noted to have elevated levels of liver enzymes and abnormal liver function. A retrospective study in China noted that over one-third of patients hospitalised for COVID-19 had abnormal liver function, and a higher proportion was observed in males.
It has been observed that in some patients, the liver function test does not return to normal levels even post recovery, and this too can be attributed to cytokine storm, pneumonia-associated low oxygen levels, and side effects of drugs used to treat the infection.
Post-COVID brain: Some patients who have had COVID-19 have developed strokes, seizures, and mild to severe inflammation in the brain, leading to long term impacts. Some patients who recover with mild symptoms have reported feeling confused, having foggy thoughts, dizziness, blurred vision, inability to focus, etc.
Researchers believe that COVID-19 may even cause temporary paralysis (Guillain-Barre syndrome) and increase risks of developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease in some patients.
Post-COVID digestive system: COVID-19 can potentially disrupt nutrient absorption by the gastrointestinal system, making it more difficult for the body to absorb essential nutrients and electrolytes.
Many patients often complain of nausea, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, persistent diarrhoea and symptoms of gastritis after recovering from COVID, making it difficult to return to a regular, normal diet. Although this is mostly temporary, complications like gastrointestinal bleeding have been observed in some patients.
It is important to note that many long-term effects of COVID-19 are still unknown, and effective treatment modalities are being looked into. Most patients, however, recover quickly without long-lasting effects, and many patients also seem to be slowly relieved of these lingering symptoms. However, the presence of persistent problems from COVID-19 only reiterates the importance of reducing its spread by wearing masks, washing hands and practising appropriate social distancing measures, such as using online consultations from the comfort of your own homes for any of your health queries.