Jess caught COVID-19 in late 2020. After nearly a week in the hospital, he was able to return home. But the disease had lasting effects. It took three months of physical therapy for Jess to regain the ability to walk, and the brain fog just never seemed to go away. He, like many infected with COVID, had become a “long hauler,” diagnosed with “long COVID” or post-COVID syndrome.
Dr. Kenneth Krell is a critical care physician who treated ICU patients at EIRMC for over 20 years. He also treated COVID patients in the ICU for two years.
He knows that most of his former COVID patients developed at least one symptom of long COVID after hospitalization. For those with an initial infection that seemed more like a cold or the flu, long COVID symptoms can still hit weeks or months after recovery.
“Post-COVID Syndrome affects somewhere between 1/3 and 1/5 of people with COVID who did not need intensive care,” explains Dr. Krell. “Even people who were asymptomatic can develop long COVID.”
Now an internal medicine physician at East Falls Internal Medicine, Dr. Krell is providing treatment options for long-haulers.
How do you know if you have post-COVID syndrome? That’s the million-dollar question; unfortunately, there isn’t yet a clear answer. Of course, if you tested positive for COVID and should have recovered weeks or months ago but still feel tired or sick, there’s a good chance that you are a long hauler.
The severity and the symptoms of long COVID vary widely from patient to patient. So far, over 40 symptoms have been associated with the condition.
The number one symptom is extreme fatigue, which can last for weeks, months, or over a year. Other common long-hauler symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain, racing heartrate, brain fog, chronic cough, and loss of taste or smell. Mental health is also affected, with depression and anxiety being reported most often.
But the indicators aren’t always that clear, especially if you aren’t aware that you had COVID. Diarrhea, unexplained rashes, persistent joint pain and body aches, and chronic sore throat are just a few of the less common symptoms reported by long haulers.
Because post-COVID syndrome is a new condition, and because many of the symptoms can be attributed to other diseases, patients may be either misdiagnosed or not taken seriously by their doctors. As Dr. Krell explains, long haulers “often feel like there is nowhere for them to turn for help, or they’ve been told that their symptoms are all in their head. That’s just not true. The effects are very real.”
But is the situation really hopeless? Dr. Krell’s answer to this question is a resounding “NO!”
“At East Falls Internal Medicine, we offer treatments and interventions that can improve quality of life,” says Dr. Krell. “We offer hope.”
After evaluation, patients receive a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan developed by a team of specialists and therapists.
“Management of these issues is provided by internal medicine physicians who have cared for and understand the nuances of post-COVID syndrome,” explains Dr. Krell. “We also provide assistance to primary physicians in management of these complex patients.”
If you suspect that you or a loved one might have long COVID, contact East Falls Internal Medicine at (208) 535-4000.