The World Health Organization (WHO) is quick to note that the vast majority of people afflicted with COVID-19 have mild cases. However, there is a meaningful percentage of those who become quite ill, and of those who die. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among those who become quite ill, common complications involve the lungs, heart, and kidneys, and the brain and nervous system.
But because COVID-19 is a relatively new phenomenon, doctors are still quite unsure as to the long-term consequences awaiting those who have contracted the virus. Doctors are monitoring patients very carefully, looking to understand the chronic effects it has on the body.
Below is a brief synopsis of what their consensus can report to date.
Dr. Sheri Dewan, a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois said, “Some of the data that we’re getting from one of the China studies that was just published in JAMA Neurology, showed that 36.4 percent of patients had neurologic issues.”
“One of the review articles that came out at the end of February discussed the possibility of viruses traveling into the olfactory neurons, through the olfactory bulb, and into the brain.”
Dewan said one theory was that COVID-19 could affect the medulla oblongata (the brain stem), which controls our cardiorespiratory system. “So in that way, it’s not only related to the lungs, where the patients can’t breathe properly, but the medullary neurons that control our breathing are also affected. This is one of the first articles pointing that out.”
But she emphasized that there isn’t enough data available to know the long-term consequences. “It’s really difficult to say right now without data; however, patients that have strokes in the medulla, will end up needing long-term tracheostomies to breathe,” she explained.
There is a growing concern that COVID-19 may do damage to the heart as well. According to the American College of Cardiology, about 17% of patients in one study developed arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm. And 7.2% experienced an acute injury to the heart.
Not unlike other serious illnesses, COVID-19 can put undue strain on the cardiovascular system. Doctors treating coronavirus patients have reported seeing the following:
Myocarditis—an inflammation of the heart muscle
Those with pre-existing cardiovascular issues are more vulnerable and at a higher risk of severe complications from coronavirus. At the moment, it remains unclear what impact the virus will have on those with healthy hearts. However, since COVID-19 symptoms may mask an indication of a heart problem, heart issues may be more common than what doctors can currently detect.
Some people suffering from severe cases of COVID-19 are showing signs of kidney damage, even those who had no underlying kidney problems before they were infected with the coronavirus. Early reports say that up to 30% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in China and New York developed moderate or severe kidney injury. Reports from doctors in New York are saying the percentage could be higher.
Doctors can detect indications of kidney problems in COVID-19 patients by tracing high levels of protein in the urine and abnormal blood work. Sometimes the kidney damage is so severe that dialysis is required.
“Many patients with severe COVID-19 are those with co-existing chronic conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Both of these increase the risk of kidney disease,” said C. John Sperati, M.D., M.H.S., an Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins, Co-director, Glomerular Disease Clinic, and an expert in kidney health. But Sperati and other doctors are also seeing kidney damage in people who did not have kidney problems before they got infected with the virus.
“Viral respiratory infections can lead to anything from a simple cough that lasts for a few weeks or months to full-blown chronic wheezing or asthma,” said Dr. Andrew Martin, chair, pulmonary medicine at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, New Jersey.
He added that, when a respiratory infection is severe, recovery can be prolonged with a general increase in shortness of breath — even after lung function returns to normal.
Patients with COVID-19 who developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) could have a higher risk of long-term health issues. “Patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), often seen in severe COVID-19 illness, sometimes develop permanent lung damage or fibrosis as well,” said Dr. Andrew Martin, chair, pulmonary medicine at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, New Jersey.
Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis
The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools by training their therapists for remote therapy.