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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Post-COVID Syndrome Patients: How Are They Now?

Posted By: Advancing Care

COVID-19 has posed challenges to the healthcare community in many different ways over the past three years, one of which was the appearance of post-COVID syndrome (also known as long COVID). This phenomenon happens when people who have been infected with COVID continue to experience symptoms, even months after they’ve tested negative for the virus.

Researchers are still not clear on what causes this condition. “There are two working theories of what causes post-COVID syndrome,” says Gary Rogg, MD, an internal medicine physician and clinical leader of the Post COVID-19 Recovery Program at WMCHealth. “One is that it’s immune-based—which means the antibodies that helped to clear the virus from your system are still working to attack the spike proteins, even when they’re done. The other theory is that the virus is similar to chicken pox — it hides out in the body and continues to release proteins and restimulate your immune system.”

Continuing COVID Symptoms

WMCHealth was one of the first organizations in the country to start a multidisciplinary program to treat people with post-COVID syndrome. While the pandemic is beginning to move to the rearview mirror, over 1,000 patients are still being treated at WMCHealth’s Post-COVID-19 Recovery Program.

Continuing COVID Symptoms

One of the reasons a multidisciplinary program is necessary to treat post-COVID syndrome is because it can appear with many different symptoms. Overall, post-COVID syndrome is characterized by lingering symptoms of the virus itself. “The most common symptom is an interesting type of fatigue that’s pervasive and independent of sleep,” says Dr. Rogg. “This type of fatigue is also exacerbated by physical or mental exertion.”

Other symptoms of post-COVID syndrome include:

  • Shortness of breath and chest discomfort
  • Cough
  • Loss of smell or taste, sometimes lasting a year or more
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Brain fog and impaired memory or focus

Treating Post-COVID Syndrome

“When someone comes in to be treated for post-COVID syndrome, we first want to prove negativity of underlying conditions through a series of tests,” says Dr. Rogg. “COVID causes life-threatening illnesses like blood clots in the lungs, neurologic issues, kidney disease, cardiomyopathy and more in about five to 10 percent of people.”

Once underlying issues are ruled out, treating post-COVID syndrome can be very complex. “We involve many specialties in this program and tailor treatment to each individual person,” says Dr. Rogg. “The trouble with this condition is that there are no treatment paradigms.” Depending on your symptoms and severity, you may see a cardiologist, neurologist, nephrologist, primary care physician, physical therapist and/or mental health specialist.

Dr. Gary Rogg
Dr. Gary Rogg is the clinical leader of the Post COVID-19 Recovery Program at WMCHealth.

Looking Toward the Future

While Dr. Rogg is still seeing new patients enrolling in the Post COVID-19 Recovery Program, there have been fewer people who have developed symptoms from more recent strains of the virus. “Many people who are enrolling now had COVID during the first few months of the pandemic,” he says. “People with lasting symptoms do improve over time, but if they get COVID again it’s likely that their post-COVID symptoms will worsen.”

Thanks to vaccines and less virulent strains of the virus, there are fewer people developing post-COVID symptoms the first time they contract it. And those who are getting COVID again will likely bounce back faster from a flare-up of post-COVID symptoms than when they first experienced them.

Dr. Rogg says the biggest impact of long COVID has been the psychological aspect of the condition. “People who were never sick before got COVID and now feel unwell constantly,” he says. “It has led to a lot of anxiety and depression, especially because we don’t have all the answers right now. As physicians treating these patients, we try to inspire hope and reassure them that they will get better with time.”

If you or a loved one are dealing with lingering symptoms after a known or suspected COVID-19 infection, the WMCHealth Post-COVID-19 Recovery Program may offer a path to a fuller recovery. The program is located in Hawthorne, NY – easily accessible to residents of the Hudson Valley, New York City, and Connecticut. If you’re experiencing symptoms of post-COVID syndrome, make an appointment with WMCHealth’s Post-COVID-19 Recovery Program.