Happily, as I write this blog, the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on deaths and hospitalisation are subsiding. Certainly, the hospital is starting to feel more familiar to those of us who have been working on the wards for so many years!
There’s no doubt however, that the after-effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt for some time, especially by people suffering with prolonged symptoms following recovery from acute COVID-19 infection. Recent UK wide research led by my colleagues at the University of Leicester has shown that this is going to be a common and important clinical problem.
Seeing patients with what is being termed post-COVID-19 syndrome or “long COVID”, I have been struck by the depth of suffering and frustration caused by the condition and the difficulty patients find explaining the symptoms they are experiencing. In particular the debilitating fatigue and slowing of mental faculties (sometimes termed “brain fog”) which doctors are struggling to understand let alone treat. It is important, of course, to ensure there is no underlying organ damage (such as lung scarring or heart dysfunction) but so far thankfully this is seems to be relatively unusual.
There is hope through research rapidly progressing in the UK and elsewhere, that greater understanding of the problem will emerge and as a result, new treatments will be developed. Until then, we need to provide as much emotional and other support to patients as we can. I’ve noticed how much Post-COVID syndrome is impacting patients’ mental health and physical conditioning and until we know more, helping people manage these knock on effects through talking therapies and rehabilitation should be the priority.