Lisa Sass, a 31-year-old woman living in Phoenix, tested positive for COVID-19 in February 2021. For a week, she hunkered down in bed, enduring what felt like a severe case of strep throat with a hacking cough. She was able to ride out the infection at home and the worst of her symptoms dissipated—but then, a new set of symptoms slowly appeared.
First, Sass was hit with overwhelming fatigue, and shortness of breath that made simple tasks like walking to her car a challenge. Her brain felt clouded in a haze, and due to all these new-found health issues, her mood tanked. She felt frustrated and ashamed. Sass was eventually diagnosed with long COVID, which is characterized by the development of “new, returning, or ongoing health problems” that people experience at least four weeks after their initial bout of COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She’s now one of the estimated 65 million people in the world who are dealing with the often-debilitating symptoms tied to the condition.1
For certain folks, long COVID amplified underlying health issues (like asthma or hypertension2,3), but many people were in good health before they were infected by the virus; now, out of the blue, they’re struggling to breathe or think clearly. It’s a mysterious syndrome that scientists are just starting to unravel, but one fact is apparent: There is no single set of symptoms that defines long COVID. Research has shown it can affect many different body systems—the heart, lungs, brain, and even the gut, among others—and has been associated with more than 200 symptoms.1
Even though long COVID manifests in seemingly endless ways, certain symptoms are more common than others, based on what experts know so far.4 That said, the type of health problems people experience, as well as how long they last, vary widely from person to person. “Many [people with long COVID] may have one, more than one, or a combination” of these symptoms, Sritha Rajupet, MD, MPH, the director of the Stony Brook Medicine Post-COVID Clinic in Commack, New York, tells SELF.
Here are five of the most common long COVID symptoms to be aware of, and what experts have learned about them so far.
Early on, fatigue quickly became one of the tell-tale signs of long COVID. In 2021, some larger studies evaluating post-COVID health issues ranked fatigue at the top of the list, and recent reports have found the same to be true.5,6,7 Now, up to a third of people with long COVID report fatigue as a symptom.8
Surendra Barshikar, MD, the director of UT Southwestern Medical Center’s COVID Recover program, tells SELF he sees a ton of patients come into his clinic with persistent fatigue. For some, it’s mild, he says; they’re not able to run like they used to, for example, but they can generally keep up with their day-to-day lives. On the other end of the spectrum, the fatigue can be so intense that some people can’t do everyday activities—such as grocery shopping, yard work, or washing the dishes—and spend hours if not days trying to recover after exerting themselves. “They almost have to will themselves off the couch to do basic tasks,” says Dr. Rajupet, who also often treats fatigue in her long-COVID clinic.