Shortness of breath, chest pain, severe fatigue… These are recognizable complaints about many people who have had Covid-19. And you can keep it for a long time. What can you do about it?
Even if you do not have to go to the hospital after you have been infected with the coronavirus, but can recover at home, you can suffer from complaints for a long time. Jochen Cals, the general practitioner, and professor at Maastricht University in the field of diagnostics of infectious diseases is researching this. “For most patients with covid-19, the hospital remains very far away,” he says. “They are recovering at home and are recovering well.”
But there are also patients who still have complaints long after the infection. One suffers from chest pain, another can no longer speak properly due to lung complaints, another remains dead tired. Their lives are still turned upside down. Even if the illness was relatively mild and no hospitalization was required.
Fatigue is a frequently mentioned problem. Other frequently described complaints are shortness of breath and inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis). “We see that patients after Covid-19 often remain short of breath or experience a tight band around the chest,” says Cals.
How common are long-term lung complaints after corona? In the summer of 2020, newspapers wrote that 95 percent of corona patients would be affected. “There are certainly not that many,” says Cals. “The actual percentage is much lower. That 95 percent was based on research among people who had signed up for a Facebook group for patients with long-term complaints after Covid-19. So you automatically get a high percentage.”
Cals’ research group has now started a study together with Utrecht University. Three hundred Brabant patients who were treated with antibiotics at home during the first wave of infection because of pneumonia will be followed for a year. Some got pneumonia as a result of the corona, some as a result of another pathogen. Cals: “Some patients are still not fit months after ‘normal’ pneumonia. Hence, these two groups of people are compared in our study. We hope this provides more insight into long-term complaints after Covid-19.”
It seems that people under 70 are more at risk of long-term complaints
What is certain: people over 70 run an increased risk of becoming more seriously ill from the coronavirus and dying from it. RIVM, therefore, considers people over 70 as a risk group.
It seems that people younger than 70 are more at risk of long-term complaints after a corona infection. Jochen Cals: “Think, for example, of healthy people in their fifties or sixties who normally never have to go to the doctor and who are very fit. They can suddenly go down hard due to Covid-19 and recover very poorly.”
Cals’ main advice for persistent complaints: determine your goal and present it to the doctor. In other words, discuss what you would like to do again. One wants to be able to go to the playground with the grandchildren, the other wants to be able to work normally again or take long walks. Cals: “Indicate this clearly to the doctor, then you can find out together how you can achieve this. Based on your goals, you can choose the most appropriate treatment for persistent complaints.”
Good to know: some hospitals have rehabilitation care or special covid outpatient clinics. This can help a lot with recovery, especially after admission to the intensive care unit.
In addition, medical specialists have written a guideline for the recovery of patients who have not been admitted to intensive care: ‘Guideline aftercare for patients with covid-19’. This guideline states with which complaint you can go to which care, provider. For example, to the physiotherapist (if you are weak and tired), the lung specialist (in case of shortness of breath), or the psychologist or practice assistant of the general practitioner (in case of anxiety).
Jochen Cals: “But not everyone who has had covid-19 needs a care provider for everything. For example in sports. Many people don’t need a physiotherapist for that, they just start exercising themselves. You sometimes have to slow down someone who is dead tired to start exercising.”
It is a special time because the amount of knowledge about this new infectious disease is increasing every month. This interview was published in Plus Magazine of March 2021. The article was written a few months before going to print. Go to the corona file for the latest news: www.gezondheidsnet.nl/coronavirus
This article previously appeared in Plus Magazine in March 2021. Want to subscribe to the magazine? You can do that in an instant!