How Long Does COVID Fatigue Last? Treatment Tips to Try ASAP

We’ve come a long way since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, from the life-saving vaccines and antiviral therapies that are now helping people stay safer and healthier, to living a little more “normal”. But those aren’t the only ways life has evolved – the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself has changed slightly with each new variant, and that in turn has affected the symptoms that appear when a person is infected. “The list of symptoms is now very long, but there are still some core symptoms that carry over from variant to variant,” says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonary critical care specialist at USC’s Keck Medicine in California.

One of these core symptoms, which is still commonly seen today, is fatigue, both during active COVID-19 infection and sometimes after a person has recovered.

What Causes COVID-19 Fatigue?

It’s complicated. If you test positive for COVID-19 and are actively infected, you’re probably feeling tired because your body is fighting the virus so hard. This is similar to what happens when you’re battling any type of illness — your immune system goes into overdrive, triggering inflammation and other symptoms that cause your energy to take a serious hit.

If you’re still tired after recovering from COVID-19 and no longer test positive, a few things could play a role. “Your body just went through something, so you might get tired from your efforts to fight it off,” says Shira Doron, MD, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. “But there’s still so much we don’t know about this virus and the condition that’s being dubbed ‘Long Covid’ so something else could be going on that’s causing this fatigue and that’s what studies are doing now investigate.”

For example, experiencing psychological stress prior to COVID-19 infection was associated with a 45% greater risk of developing long-term COVID symptoms, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard TH Chan School of Medicine. The “why” is still unknown, but this connection makes sense, says Dr. Doron. “The mind-body connection is one of the most mysterious things in medicine, so a large part of the funding goes into researching how your mental state affects you physiologically during and after infection,” adds Dr. Doron added.

Some other long COVID symptoms, such as Other factors, such as increased sleep disturbances, may also contribute to fatigue because “what happens during the night obviously affects how you feel during the day, which makes the fatigue worse,” says Dr. dasgupta Inflammation may also play a role in the ongoing fatigue, and there’s also the possibility that the virus has caused internal damage (anything heart- or lung-related can cause fatigue, he says) or a pre-existing underlying condition aggravated, dr. Dasgupta adds, but there are still many unknowns and more research needs to be done in this area.

How does COVID-19 fatigue feel?

Fatigue is a difficult feeling to define, especially when it comes to COVID-19, which is still not well understood. “Everyone describes fatigue a little differently because it’s so individual,” says Dr. Dasgupta, but it definitely goes beyond the tiredness one feels around 3pm or after a bad night’s sleep.

When they test positive for COVID-19, many patients report that they want to sleep frequently and find that any exertion or task leaves them profoundly tired, explains William Lago, MD, a primary care physician at the Cleveland Clinic. It can result in an inability to function or get out of bed, adds Dr. Doron added, and one thing that makes it different from ordinary fatigue is that it can get worse as you try to get through it.

With post-COVID fatigue, “many patients complain that it affects their ability to do things like exercise or do basic tasks. They may find that they need to rest after trying to do things that they are usually good at before they get Covid and some patients have been so exhausted that they have to stop work or limit many things, that they used to enjoy,” says Dr Lago.

I'm so tired

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And it’s not necessarily just physical — fatigue can also manifest cognitively. “A feeling of fatigue or brain fog can occur when concentrating, arithmetic, writing, or other cognitive functions,” says Dr. dasgupta “And it could also show in the form of mood swings or patience — you just can’t handle those things as well as you normally can before you were sick.”

How long does COVID-19 fatigue last?

There is no definitive answer. If you are infected with COVID-19 you may feel tired for a few days or until you recover and test negative. Fatigue that persists beyond the acute period of infection is even more murky. “It can take weeks, months or even years,” says Dr. Dasgupta. “This is the time to focus on research looking at such symptoms. We need to see what solutions we can uncover to directly address whatever is causing a persistent symptom like fatigue. My prediction is that the next big research project will look at what role these antiviral drugs may play. We know they reduce viral loads – so could starting earlier or in more patients reduce long-term Covid symptoms? I think that’s the next hot topic.”

How to treat COVID-19 fatigue:

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or 5-step plan proven to help you overcome fatigue faster. But accepting that you are dealing with a real disease is a good first step. “I tell all my patients that. Many are frustrated because they feel like some people, or even medical professionals, don’t believe their symptoms are real, but they are,” says Dr. Lago.

There are also lifestyle habits you can implement that can help. “It really comes down to the pillars of good health, which support a strong immune system and good overall health,” says Dr. dasgupta “You want to do your best to protect yourself from future infections before your body has a chance to recover from this one.”

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Fill it up with lots of fruits and vegetables, protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and a minimum of sugar and alcohol.
  • Do sports regularly. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself to do what you did before COVID – if you used to run but can only walk now, that’s perfectly fine. “Even small things like taking the dog for a longer walk, playing outside with the kids, or avoiding the elevator can help you take those steps and make you feel better,” says Dr. dasgupta
  • Concentrate on sleep. Create a sleep routine that will help you unwind at night, says Dr. Dasgupta, and don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about what changes or medications might help you fall asleep or stay asleep if you’re struggling with it.
  • Minimize and manage stress. “Stress and COVID are definitely linked, and fatigue can take the mental toll harder or make anxiety or depression harder to manage, so finding ways to address your mental health is extremely important,” says Dr. dasgupta
  • Consider getting vaccinated and boosted. “I advise my patients to still consider COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters to prevent serious illness and further complications,” says Dr. Lago.

What to do if your COVID-19 fatigue persists or worsens:

“I would definitely recommend anyone experiencing post-COVID fatigue to speak to their GP,” says Dr. Lago. “While we still don’t have a definitive cure, they are in the best position to ensure nothing else could be the cause. Fatigue can be caused by numerous things and they can help distinguish what may be related to Covid from what could be a completely unrelated problem.”

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