The Struggle Is Real: Post-COVID Fatigue
“It was like watching a healthy 27-year-old turn into a puddle,” said Darcie’s boyfriend. “When I was positive for COVID-19, I was really sick, and I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t walk from the couch to the kitchen without collapsing to the ground and just lying there. I couldn’t stand for more than 60 seconds because it made me so tired.”
Darcie Way was an otherwise healthy phlebotomist in Grand Rapids, Michigan before she contracted the virus and tested positive for COVID on March 24, 2020. But the most surprising consequence has been the continuing fatigue that plagues her months later. It’s likely that Darcie is what many are now calling a “COVID long hauler.” And one prominent symptom of this long-term effect of the coronavirus is fatigue.
“COVID knocked me on my butt for four months. I was out of work the entire time despite being deemed ‘recovered’ about a month after I originally tested positive,” explained Darcie when she was interviewed for this article last month. “Even after being told I was symptom free and before going back at work, I was always exhausted. It was like I could accomplish only one significant task a day and that was it.”
“When I would get up to do something, I just felt so unbelievably tired that I wanted to lay or sit back down immediately. My doctors kept testing me for anemia to see if that was causing the tiredness, but my iron levels were always perfect. They even tested my thyroid, and those tests came back fine too. Six months after getting COVID, I’m still trying to figure out why I’m fatigued and how to fix it. Even on my days off, I often lack energy and feel useless.”
Is Post-COVID Syndrome Real?
Post-viral syndromes are not uncommon. Doctors know that patients who had a bad bout of the flu or pneumonia can have a cough and feel drained of energy for weeks or months after a viral infection. Ongoing fatigue is also linked to illnesses such as mononucleosis.
Post-viral syndrome also seems to be a real issue following coronavirus transmission. The virus can cause prolonged illness and is linked to lingering symptoms. These include:
- Difficulty concentrating,
- Shortness of breath,
- Decreased lung capacity,
- Chronic fatigue,
- Sleep disorders, and
- Memory loss.
According to a study by the CDC, 35% of patients recovering from COVID-19 still didn’t feel well weeks after the major symptoms subside. Plus, 20% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 years with no chronic medical conditions have not returned to normal. The hypothesis is that – with COVID-19 – post-viral fatigue is simply more prominent and more persistent in comparison to other viral illnesses.
“Even months later,” said Darcie, “I was struggling to catch my breath after doing menial tasks and I felt like I was never going to be the same. I’ve been prescribed antibiotics, steroids, and inhalers and I still need to carry my inhaler with me at all times.” She explained that, at six months post-COVID, she still has scary episodes of irregular breathing and relies on an inhaler to manage the shortness of breath at work.
What Is Post-COVID Fatigue?
Chronic fatigue post-COVID is described as persistent lack of energy, and insomnia, difficulty sleeping or not feeling rested after sleep.
“I definitely experience the fatigue and lack of energy still,” Darcie said of her slow recovery. “My shift at work starts at 4:00 am, but that wasn’t a problem for me before getting sick. Now, it’s hard, not just waking up at 3:00 am, but staying on my feet and walking around to patients’ rooms in the hospital. I’m exhausted every day when I get home.”
For some patients, the post-viral symptoms can also involve psychological factors, such as depression and anxiety, as well as severe physical pain. The cognitive symptoms – trouble concentrating, “brain fog,” and faulty memory – and the loss of smell seem to be unique to the coronavirus and have also become long-term issues for a small percentage of those with post-COVID syndrome.
Are Chronic Post-COVID Symptoms Permanent?
Because it is new, doctors and scientists do not fully understand the long-term effects of this virus. Some predict that symptoms, like shortness of breath, pulmonary damage, and scarring of the lungs caused by the coronavirus may be irreversible. However, only time will tell if fatigue and other symptoms are truly permanent.
Can Post-COVID Fatigue Be Treated?
Usually, the treatment options are similar to those for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis). General advice for patients experiencing long-term fatigue is to take it easy and give their bodies time to fully recover from the illness.
A Note to Our Clients: Take Care
During the pandemic, “I just want people to think about how important it is to protect others,” said Darcie.
The team at Sleep Health Solutions is here to help patients during this difficult period. Contact our office for more information about our services.