Five tips for young people dealing with prolonged COVID – from a GP

While we may no longer hear the daily COVID numbers, the virus has not gone away. In the UK alone, thousands of new cases continue to be reported every day.

Meanwhile, there is a very large group of people for whom the virus has not disappeared in a different sense: those suffering from prolonged COVID. For these people, symptoms persist after the infection has passed (technically, more than 12 weeks after infection).

The most common prolonged COVID symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, and loss of sense of smell. But people who experience COVID for a long time report a wide range of symptoms.

Prolonged symptoms of COVID


Office for National Statistics, May 2022 dataset, Author provided

Quarter life, a series of The Conversation

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series on issues that affect those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet, or simply making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and provide answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

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For many people with long-term COVID, their symptoms affect their ability to live and work normally. Symptoms can last a few weeks for some people, while for others they can last much longer.

We don’t fully understand why prolonged COVID occurs, but one theory is that it’s due to an overreaction of the immune system or blood vessels.

Between 3% and 12% of people who get COVID develop long-term COVID. Around 2% of people in the UK are currently experiencing prolonged COVID.

Data indicates that women are more likely to develop prolonged COVID, and people ages 35 to 49 are more likely to experience symptoms compared to other age groups. Having certain health vulnerabilities, such as a compromised immune system, also makes people more susceptible. This does not mean that other groups, such as men, children, and young adults, may not be affected.

In fact, around 250,000 people aged 17-34 in the UK are estimated to have prolonged COVID at the moment. In particular, many young people with long-term COVID are likely not to have lived with long-term illness and thus may be unfamiliar with navigating the health care system, which can be tricky.

I’m a GP and these are my best tips on what to do if you think you may have COVID for a long time.

1. Recognize if your symptoms need urgent attention

If your symptoms seem potentially serious, don’t delay in seeking medical attention. If you have symptoms such as persistent chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, or confusion, or are unable to speak or move your arms or legs, you should seek help in the emergency department or call 999. Otherwise, follow the steps below.

2. Check in with a GP

If you are not registered with a GP, do so as soon as possible. Access to primary care in the UK is free regardless of immigration status. But not all hospital treatment is free for everyone.

3. If you have symptoms, contact your GP

I know this can be frustrating – I find it difficult to get an appointment with my own GP. If you have the energy, call the practice early in the morning. If you are offered an appointment over the phone, take it and you may be offered an in-person appointment later.

If you are unable to reach us by phone, please complete the online form with your concerns if your GP offers this on their website. If you still can’t reach your GP after trying different times of day in the same week, you might consider moving to another office.

A nurse helps a young man fill out a form.  They both wear masks.
It is important to be registered with a GP.
Half point/Shutterstock

4. Have an idea of ​​what you want from the date and prepare

What do you care about? Would you like to be examined? Do you need your doctor to take you off work? Be clear with what you expect and expect to get out of the appointment; this will help the appointment run as smoothly as possible. It may be a good idea to write down a list and discuss it with your GP at the beginning of your appointment.

On the date, a few things can happen. You may be asked about your symptoms or you may complete a questionnaire. If you can wear clothing that can be easily removed, do so, especially if you are likely to be examined. For example, if you have been feeling out of breath, wear a loose fitting shirt as the doctor will probably want to listen to your chest.

You may be offered blood tests, an ECG (which checks your heart rhythm), or even a chest x-ray to investigate what may be causing your symptoms. After this, your case details may be sent to your local long-term COVID clinic or for review by a team of experts (called a multidisciplinary team) where you could undergo tests and treatments that are not available at your primary care doctor’s practice. Headboard.

5. Find other resources

You may find it useful to visit the NHS COVID recovery website or access long-running COVID support resources online. These provide links to patient forums, support services, and symptom-specific advice.

There may also be a role for non-medical therapies such as yoga and drama, although there is limited evidence to show that they can help people with prolonged COVID. Interestingly, a recent study found that a six-week breathing program led by opera singers improved mental health, though not physical health, for people with prolonged COVID.

one last word

In our clinic, we have observed that people who did not rest while severely ill with COVID and immediately afterward were more likely to develop a more severe version of prolonged COVID. This observation has been supported by recent survey data.

So rest while you’re not feeling well with COVID and even once you’re back on your feet, especially if you can afford it.

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