Gruelling long-term health impact of virus
It's becoming increasingly clear coronavirus is here, and it's here to stay.
Now doctors are warning that patients who have survived COVID-19 may be left with long-term health problems.
They say that the deadly disease can have a lasting impact on a patient's health, causing lasting damage to their whole body.
And it's not just the lungs that are affected by the lethal disease; it's also other vital organs and bodily systems.
It's thought the virus has only been around since late December, so even the earliest COVID-19 patients are still in their early stages of recovery.
However, scientists and doctors have been able to give us a first glimpse of what may be in store for patients who battle moderate-to-severe cases of coronavirus.
As many people will already know, coronavirus is a respiratory disease that has a huge impact on the lungs.
Many COVID-19 patients develop a form of respiratory failure called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which requires patients to receive oxygen via a ventilator.
Past studies suggest ARDS can significantly diminish people's quality of life, even after they've recovered, as it leaves irreversible scarring on the lungs.
Khalilah Gates, a pulmonologist and assistant professor of pulmonary, critical care and medical education at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, told HuffPost: "We know from influenza and ARDS and other causes of ARDS that, based on the severity of the acute illness, there can definitely be long-term consequences from the inflammation and scarring."
She added that this can lead to "irreversible lung damage and lung impairment that can lead to chronic respiratory symptoms and need for oxygen long-term".
A new study from China has suggested that many people who have been infected with coronavirus can develop liver damage.
Scientists analysed the blood test results of 34 COVID-19 patients over the course of their hospitalisation.
And their readings revealed that the recovered patients continued to have impaired liver function.
And that was the case even after two tests for the live virus had come back negative and the patients were cleared to be discharged.
COVID-19 is also putting extreme stress on people's hearts.
Scientists from Harvard University have dubbed the deadly disease "one big stress test for the heart".
They revealed that the inflammation and high fevers brought on by coronavirus weaken the heart and increase the risk for cardiac abnormalities like blood clotting.
Len Horovitz, an internist and pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, expects that some people who battled a severe bout of COVID-19 may go on to develop a disorder of the heart that affects the rate or rhythm at which the heart beats, known as heart arrhythmias.
He added that they could also develop congestive heart failure and myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).
Many COVID-19 patients will be left battling with cognitive and physical function in the weeks and months after leaving the hospital.
This is common in patients admitted to intensive care units because bed rest can take a serious toll on the body and people can experience muscle breakdown quickly when they're stuck in a bed in the hospital.
A Johns Hopkins University study found that for each day a person was on bed rest, their muscle strength dropped from three per cent to 11 per cent over the following months and years.
Medics fear that the impact coronavirus has on mobility may be worse as the treatment recovery programs in hospitals usually used to help patients get mobile again are not being delivered.
And on top of that, it takes coronavirus patients a long time to recover - usually about two weeks.
CONTINUED SHORTNESS OF BREATH
Doctors say coronavirus patients are likely to have persistent shortness of breath, even after they've recovered.
They say most of those who had severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) had shortness of breath for one month after infection - and this is likely to be the same for COVID-19 patients.
Dr Steven Berk, executive vice president and dean of Texas Tech Health Sciences Centre School of Medicine, told Fox News: "Those with SARS pneumonia had shortness of breath one month after infection. Most patients improved over time …
"Those who had developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) remained short of breath for months or for a lifetime."
MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
Psychiatrists say that from looking at past coronaviruses it is likely many COVID-19 patients will go on to develop mental health problems including depression and anxiety.
In fact, a study of patients discharged after suffering SARS found that more than one-third reported depression and anxiety 12 months on.
"From the original SARS outbreak in 2003, we see that psychiatric illness is the most notable long-term outcome," said Dr Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert and professor at the University of South Carolina, "including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression."
In general, health experts predict that the less inflammation a patient experiences, the less long-term effects they'll have.
As COVID-19 is a new illness, experts are still grappling to understand the disease and the long-term impacts.
Researchers will need to follow patients over time, and look for changes in their hearts and lungs and other key organs, to see if the damage is long-lasting or if the body is able to make a swift recovery.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and has been republished with permission
Originally published as Gruelling long-term health impact of virus