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Long-term effects of COVID-19

The majority of people recover from COVID-19 without treatment and can get back to normal relatively quickly. However, some experience various long-term effects of the infectious disease.

On the long-term effects of COVID-19

1. What are the long-term effects of COVID-19?

Long-term effects of COVID commonly describe signs and symptoms that continue or develop after acute COVID-19. 

Inspired by a guideline from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), from December 2020, the Danish Health Authority uses the following clinical definitions to distinguish between the long-term effects of COVID-19:

Ongoing symptomatic COVID-19: signs and symptoms of COVID-19 that lasts from 4 weeks to 12 weeks. 

Post-COVID-19 syndrome: signs and symptoms that continue for more than 12 weeks.

Whether or not you will need medical attention defends entirely on the severity of your symptoms. 

2. What are the most common long-term effects of COVID-19?

COVID-19 can cause a variety of long-term symptoms that vary in severity from person to person and can affect the individual's level of function in various ways.

Various symptoms of ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 have been reported. The most frequent being:

  • shortness of breath and coughing
  • chest pain, chest tightness and palpitations
  • fatigue and fever
  • cognitive impairment – such as difficulty concentrating and memory issues, headaches, sleep disorders, peripheral neuropathy symptoms (pins and needles and numbness), dizziness and delirium (particularly among the elderly)
  • abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, anorexia/decreased appetite (among the elderly)
  • joint and muscle pain
  • symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • loss of sense of taste and/or smell, tinnitus, earache, sore throat, dizziness
  • skin rashes

Please note that we still do not know much about the majority of the reported symptoms.

3. Who will experience the long-term effects of COVID-19?

An estimated 10% of those who get COVID-19 experience long-term symptoms (lasting for more than 4 weeks = ongoing symptomatic COVID-19). It is still not known what proportion of those who continue to experience symptoms after 12 weeks = Post-COVID-19 syndrome. 

Long-term effects of COVID-19 can be seen in people of all age groups, regardless of whether they had a mild case of the illness or were hospitalised and perhaps even put on a ventilator.  


4. How much is known about the long-term effects of COVID-19?

As COVID-19 is still a relatively new disease, we still only have limited knowledge of ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 syndrome. 

There may be a variety of reasons why some individuals experience the long-term effects of COVID-19. However, long-term effects are not a new phenomenon but are known from outbreaks of other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS.

5. Can I be treated for the long-term effects of COVID-19?

There is no clear treatment pathway as each case of ongoing symptomatic COVID-19, and post-COVID-19 syndrome differs. The majority are expected to recover on their own – some more slowly than others.

Whether or not you are going to need medical attention defends entirely on the severity of your symptoms. 

6. Can long-term effects become chronic?

It is still too early to say anything about the duration of long-term effects. There is nothing to suggest that you will not make a full recovery, although it may take a long time for your symptoms to subside.

Because your symptoms last for longer than 12 weeks does not mean they are chronic.


7. How do I know if my symptoms are the long-term effects of COVID-19?

At the beginning of the epidemic in Denmark, people were not necessarily tested but told to self-isolate instead. Therefore, some people will have had COVID-19 without knowing it and may now be experiencing symptoms that are compatible with ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 or post-COVID-19 syndrome. 

In such cases, you need a medical assessment to determine whether your symptoms may be COVID-19-related. 

An antibody test can show whether you have antibodies to novel coronavirus in your blood.  


8. What can I do if I think I have long-term effects of COVID-19?

If you are concerned and experience symptoms for a long time after you have recovered from acute COVID-19, please contact your own doctor.
Updated 23 MAR 2021