This content has been developed by Te Whatu Ora - Waitematā to provide information for adults experiencing Long COVID and those supporting them. For information specific to children experiencing Long COVID please talk to a general practitioner (GP).
Most people with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health after around 2–6 weeks but for others it may take up to 12 weeks before they feel like they are back to full health. There are some people who continue to experience symptoms longer than 12 weeks – for these people symptoms may change or new symptoms may develop.
Long COVID is the name given to the symptoms people have after at least 12 weeks since having COVID-19. You might also hear it called by other names such as post-COVID syndrome, long-haul COVID, or post-acute COVID syndrome (PACS). Long COVID is a new condition and therefore we are still learning about it and doing our best to update information as it comes available. Overseas it is estimated that up to one in five people who get COVID will go on to experience Long COVID.
There is still no internationally accepted definition but the World Health Organisation has developed the following definition:
“Post COVID-19 condition occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction but also others which generally have an impact on everyday functioning.
Symptoms may be new onset, following initial recovery from an acute COVID-19 episode, or persist from the initial illness. Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time. A separate definition may be applicable for children.”
Remember, it is normal to experience symptoms following a COVID-19 infection for a number of weeks as your body recovers. Although after 7 days you are no longer very contagious, which is why you can leave isolation, your body will unlikely be recovered. Your body will need some care and time to recover from the viral infection, even once you are out of self-isolation. However, if you are experiencing ongoing, changing, or new symptoms at 12 weeks or longer after the initial COVID-19 infection that are not explained by another condition, you may have Long COVID. The type and severity of ongoing symptoms vary among people. There is no standard medical test to diagnose Long COVID but your healthcare provider (e.g. GP) will be able to assess if you have Long COVID.
If you think you may have long COVID, please consult your healthcare provider. They will help you rule out other conditions and will suggest the next steps to manage your symptoms.
Some Long COVID common symptoms are listed below:
Fatigue is the overwhelming feeling of tiredness that does not get better with sleep. Fatigue can be physical or mental and can change at different times. Your normal daily activities may leave you feeling exhausted, you may have difficulty concentrating, and you may feel very low in motivation. Read more about fatigue and how to manage it.
Brain fog refers to a range of difficulties related to your thinking skills. You may be thinking slowly, having trouble remembering things, or having difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks. These symptoms may be interfering with your normal daily activities such as your ability to work and study and for some people will mean you are unable to work or study at all. Read more about brain fog and how to manage it.
Numbness in the hands or feet refers to altered sensations such as pins or needles or weakness in your hands and feet. You may even notice a combination of persistent pain, stiffness, numbness, or weakness in the arms and legs. It is a good idea to talk to a health professional if you are experiencing new or worsening symptoms.
Experiencing COVID-19 or any persistent symptoms can be difficult and understandably may impact your mood. Low mood includes feeling sad, empty, irritable, disinterested, or having thoughts of harming yourself. Feelings of worry, fear, and stress are also not unusual when dealing with difficult symptoms. Decreased appetite, lack of energy, and difficulty falling asleep may also indicate low mood. Read more about self-care.
Urinary symptoms include increased urgency or frequency of urination, difficulty controlling urination, or involuntary loss of urine. You may wake up more often at night to urinate, experience pain, or struggle passing urine. It is a good idea to talk to a health professional if you are experiencing new or worsening urinary symptoms.
Muscle aches, pains, and lack of strength are common after periods of reduced activity due to hospitalisation or self-isolation. Exertion due to exercise or challenging activity can also aggravate muscle pain or weakness. The pain or weakness may be specific to an area or can be more widespread.
Cough is a common symptom of COVID-19 that usually recovers within a few weeks. Cough can also be caused by gastric reflux or be triggered by a strong scent. Some individuals experience persistent coughing during eating or drinking.
Joint stiffness and pain are common after periods of reduced activity due to hospitalisation or self-isolation. Exertion due to exercise or challenging activity can also worsen joint pain. The pain may be widespread or specific to an area.
An increased heart rate may be experienced due to many reasons with Long COVID. You may notice your heart is beating unusually fast with daily activity, when you change positions from lying down to upright or standing, or when you feel stressed. Chest palpitations or breathlessness may also be experienced alongside a racing heart. It is a good idea to talk to a health professional if you are experiencing chest palpitations or breathlessness.
Shortness of breath refers to difficulties with breathing including feeling an intense tightening of the chest or suffocation. You may become unusually breathless with exercise; even climbing the stairs may have you struggling to breathe. Breathlessness may also be caused by stress, anxiety, or coughing. Read more about breathlessness and how to manage it.
Chest pain can be a worrying symptom for people with Long COVID. Chest pain is often experienced due to many reasons unrelated to your heart such as muscle pain following exercise or indigestion. However, chest pain can sometimes indicate serious problems with the heart or lungs. Talk to a health professional if you are experiencing chest pain.
Persistent loss of smell or taste can follow a COVID-19 infection. You may not be able to smell good or bad odours or be able to detect flavours in food, causing food to taste bland or have a metallic taste. This may impact the appeal of food and your dietary intake. Read more about the loss of smell or taste and how to manage it.
Dizziness after a COVID-19 infection can include feelings of light-headedness (feeling like you might faint) or feeling like you are spinning/moving. Dizziness can leave you feeling off balance and can be linked to ringing in the ears, hearing loss, eye strain and headaches. Dizziness can also be a symptom of Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (PoTS) which is an unusual increase in heart rate that happens after sitting up or standing. It is important to talk to a health professional if you experience dizziness at the same time as other symptoms such as chest pain, a fast-beating heart or shortness of breath. Doing too much can make dizziness worse, so pacing can help. Read more about Pacing.
Headaches refer to pain in any part of the head and are often accompanied by various symptoms such as sensitivity to light, nausea, or loss of appetite. Headaches are common following viral infection but do not mean that the virus is still in your body. Headaches can be triggered by certain foods, habits, or stress. Read more about headaches and how to manage them.
Gastrointestinal changes can occur after COVID-19. These can result in stomach pain/aches, nausea (feeling like you will be sick), vomiting, diarrhoea, and reduced appetite. Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated are important when recovering from COVID-19, and therefore you should seek the guidance of a health professional if these symptoms are resulting in weight loss or dehydration.
The ongoing symptoms, lifestyle changes, and lack of information can be frustrating for people experiencing long COVID. Remember you are not alone; people all over the world are experiencing long COVID.
We asked some people who have experienced Long COVID what they would say to someone who was just diagnosed with Long COVID and these are some of the things they said:
“You're going to get better, but it will take time and everyone is different, so go easy on yourself.”
“There will be good days and bad days, so be kind and patient with yourself.”
“Be prepared that this is unlike anything else you've experienced and the journey out is long - be patient and try to stay positive, focus on the little things and celebrate every tiny step forward”
“There is no definitive timeframe for recovery. Take that pressure off yourself. Try find something that brings you joy in life. No matter how big or small. Its very hard to keep your mind off this illness but try to distract yourself. Find someone you can talk to who will just listen.”