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You’re middle-aged with new symptoms after the COVID infection—fatigue, brain fog, joint pain. Is COVID long? Or are you just getting old?
If you’ve found yourself wondering, you’re not alone.
“It’s a thing,” said Dr. Alba Miranda Azola, co-director of Johns Hopkins University’s long-standing COVID clinic. Wealth.
Considering the world has only seen 650 million officially recorded cases of COVID-and this about 10% of the world’s population is 65 or older – aging and long-term COVID are bound to intersect in a big way. This is especially true considering that the aging process for many is starting to show early middle age.
As patients get older, “I think it gets a little muddy,” Azola said.
There are currently no official diagnostic criteria for prolonged COVID. Even the definition of the condition varies depending on who you talk to, though it’s generally considered new symptoms that begin during or after a COVID infection and last for weeks or months.
The complications, symptoms and timing of aging can vary greatly due to genetic and environmental factors. Thus, it’s not possible to say definitively whether your new symptoms are due to aging or prolonged COVID, both, or neither, Azola and other experts say.
“Can COVID be long? The short answer is yes, she said. “But it’s hard to know if it’s prolonged COVID or if other things are contributing.”
A “chicken or egg?” dilemma
with more than 200 symptoms identified— from persistent coughing and fatigue to tingling ears and a “brain on fire” feeling — lingering COVID is clearly not one but multiple conditions, experts say.
Many argue that true prolonged COVID is best defined as a chronic fatigue syndrome-like condition that develops after a COVID infection, similar to other post-viral syndromes that can occur after infection with herpes, Lyme disease, and Ebola. among others.
Other complications after COVID, such as organ damage, should not be defined as prolonged COVID and better fit into the larger general category of PASC, experts say. Also known as post-acute sequelae of COVID-19the term is used to cover a wide variety of consequences of COVID, from chronic fatigue-like symptoms and sequelae heart disease to permanent lung damage to strange new symptoms like urinary incontinence, itching and skin lesions.
Signs of aging can overlap with a long COVID, or at least feel like it. These often include back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and dementia, among others. according to the World Health OrganizationIn addition to fatigue.
Officially diagnosed or not, nearly 60% of the world’s population is believed to have been infected with COVID, according to Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Now that the majority of the world’s citizens have survived the virus, it’s difficult to determine what new symptoms and conditions the virus has caused or contributed to, said Dr. Nir Goldstein, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health in Denver who leads the long-running COVID clinic of the hospital.
“It becomes challenging from a clinical point of view to temporally define causation,” he said Wealth.
Time as a narrative
Symptoms of aging tend to appear gradually, said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine who examines patients with long-term COVID Wealth. Not so with the long COVID.
“There’s really a big difference between ‘Before I felt like this’ and ‘After I felt like this,'” he said of the lingering symptoms of COVID after a COVID infection. “I don’t think many people mistake their symptoms for aging.”
“A lot of patients will tell you they feel like they’ve gotten old after COVID,” he added.
Azola has many elderly patients who have been less active in the past two years due to pandemic restrictions and now complain that exercise is draining them. Reduced activity during the pandemic — not the virus — may be to blame for at least some of their symptoms, she said.
“The older population experiences a combination of reduced activity during years of isolation and then deterioration,” she said.
“Most respond well to more physical approaches to activity progression” or physical therapy, she said.
For now, it doesn’t matter what’s causing your symptoms, experts say, because there are no approved treatments specifically for prolonged COVID. Doctors treat the symptoms, regardless of the cause.
Ultimately, the cause of symptoms may matter if the exact mechanisms behind prolonged COVID are determined and treatments are developed, Goldstein said.
“But at this point in practice it’s not,” he said.
This story was originally featured in Fortune.com
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