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Many people report waves of symptoms after having COVID-19. Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
  • COVID-19 long-haulers may experience symptoms such as fatigue, body aches, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, headache, and loss of taste or smell.
  • A new poll finds that there may be a specific order for long-term COVID-19 symptoms.
  • The first symptoms to emerge are often flu-like: fatigue, headache, fever, and chills.

For some people, COVID-19, no matter its severity, is a one-and-done event, with symptoms clearing up within 2 to 6 weeks of infection with the coronavirus.

For others, the initial illness can be just the beginning of an extended period of complications, sometimes even for people who were only mildly ill due to the infection.

Such symptoms may come in waves, cropping up at regular intervals, newly compiled data suggests.

COVID-19 long-haulers may experience symptoms such as fatigue, body aches, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, headache, loss of taste or smell, or other problems long after the coronavirus has left the body, according to the World Health Organization.

Research suggests that 50 to 80 percent of people who recover from COVID-19 experience at least some lingering after-effects 3 months after infection with the coronavirus.

Prolonged symptom duration and disability are common in adults hospitalized with a severe form of COVID-19.

Patient interviews show that while 65 percent of people who had been released from the hospital after being treated for a severe form of COVID-19 had returned to full health, 35 percent still had not fully recovered more than 2 weeks after being hospitalized.

Fatigue, cough, and headache were the most commonly reported problems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.

British researchers estimated that among all COVID-19 survivors, hospitalized or not, about 10 percent experience long-term health problems.

Now, new and preliminary research focusing on nonhospitalized people in California found that 27 percent reported persistent symptoms after 60 days.

Women were also more likely to report symptoms. They accounted for 72 percent of COVID-19 long-haulers.

Of those with long-term symptoms, nearly one-third had been asymptomatic at the time they tested positive for the coronavirus.

A separate patient survey conducted by Dr. Natalie Lambert, one of the researchers involved in the California study, found that long-haul COVID-19 symptoms may manifest at regular intervals — often a week to 10 days apart.

The survey of 5,163 patients with COVID-19, conducted via the Survivor Corps patient-advocacy website for those with long-haul COVID-19, found that the first symptoms to emerge are flu-like: fatigue, headache, fever, and chills.

About 5 days later, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting ensue for some patients.

At 10 days post-infection, body pain and neurological problems like confusion, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating tend to arise, according to self-reports from patients with COVID-19.

High or low blood pressure, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness were reportedly more frequent 15 days after initial illness.

COVID-19-related symptoms like mouth sores, twitchy muscles, eye infections, and skin conditions may not appear until 21 days later, or 3 weeks after the initial infection with the coronavirus, the survey suggested.

Diana Berrent, a COVID-19 survivor and founder of Survivor Corps, told Healthline that individual reports from the group’s 150,000-plus members support Lambert’s survey findings.

“Some people are chronically sick from day one. For others, you think you feel better and then you’re hit by another wave and another wave,” she said. The latter phenomenon, known as recrudescence, also may affect people who had mild or even asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, Berrent added.

Dr. Peter Staats, medical advisor to Survivor Corps, said the waxing and waning of COVID-19 symptoms among “long COVID” patients could be the result of organ or blood vessel damage caused by infection with the coronavirus. Or it could be a form of persistent inflammation due to an immune overreaction or virus lingering in the body — something that’s already known to happen with the virus that causes both chickenpox and shingles.

“The good news for people who are experiencing symptoms in waves is that the waves do seem to get milder over time, at least anecdotally,” said Berrent. Some reports from group members also seem to suggest that COVID-19 vaccination may also ease recrudescent symptoms, she said.