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A new study has found that some people who develop COVID-19 experience elevated heart rate that lasts for several months. Getty Images
  • Some people called “long haulers” will take a longer amount of time to recover from COVID-19 symptoms. However, it hasn’t been previously determined just how long these symptoms might last.
  • A new study has used wearable devices and an app to track how long symptoms like low energy, sleep issues, and elevated heart rate can continue.
  • The researchers found that an elevated heart rate can last as long as 4 months.
  • If you experience lingering symptoms, doctors can order tests which will look for serious heart problems.

Some people who develop COVID-19 will take a long amount of time to recover from their symptoms.

These COVID-19 “long haulers” may experience a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, sleep problems, and heart palpitations.

However, it hadn’t really been quantified just how long these symptoms might last.

A new study has attempted to answer this question by using wearable devices and an app to track relevant measurements.

The DETECT (Digital Engagement and Tracking for Early Control and Treatment) study was a remote study that used wearable devices and an app to collect various physiological and behavioral metrics before, during, and after the study participants developed COVID-19.

In total, 875 adults who reported symptoms of a respiratory illness were included in the study. Among these, 234 eventually tested positive for COVID-19.

To observe the course of their illness, the researchers looked at various metrics tracked by wearable devices.

They found that for some participants, it took more than 4 months for them to return to their usual resting heart rate and sleep patterns, as tracked by the devices.

Using daily step counts as a surrogate for energy levels, they found that it took about 30 days after the beginning of symptoms for the study participants to return to normal energy levels.

They also found that it took people who developed COVID-19 longer to return to normal sleep and energy than people who had similar symptoms, but didn’t have COVID-19.

On average, it took about 79 days for people with COVID-19 to return to a normal heart rate and 32 days to recover their previous energy level.

It took an average of 24 days for people to return to their normal sleep patterns.

Heart rate elevation in particular was more common among people who had cough, body aches, and shortness of breath during their disease course, according to the study authors.

Study co-author Jennifer Radin, PhD, said she feels that diagnosing the cause of the elevated heart rate could be helpful in determining who might have ongoing inflammation or autonomic immune dysfunction related to COVID-19.

She suggested that sensor data can be a good way to objectively measure what physiological impact the virus is having on people.

According to Dr. Saurabh Rajpal, a cardiologist and assistant professor in the division of cardiovascular medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, most people don’t notice any heart symptoms.

However, he said some will have an uncomfortable sensation of their heart beating (palpitations). Also, some will feel their heart racing from simply walking to the bathroom or going up a flight of stairs.

“We do not know the long-term consequence of a faster heart rate post-COVID,” said Rajpal.

“From the follow ups we have had, most people tend to recover after a few weeks without any effects. For that period when the heart rate is fast, a lot of people feel uncomfortable. But, besides this uncomfortable feeling, other serious consequences appear to be rare,” he said.

Rajpal added that when they do see someone with a fast heart rate or palpitations, they make certain it’s not due to another consequence of COVID-19, like myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), blood clots, or heart dysfunction.

He said if a person is having these type symptoms for longer than 3 months — or they’re caused by minimal activities — then there might be concern that there’s a bigger issue happening.

Most physicians would order more advanced testing like an echocardiogram, or cardiac MRI, he said.