Doctors continue to see odd long-term impacts on health in COVID-19 patients

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– We continue to learn more about the ongoing effects of COVID-19, long after the person is initially sick. Sometimes the conditions are odd, like memory issues or confusion and even behavioral changes. But others are potentially deadly like strokes or an enlargement of the heart.

It started in the Spring when there were early reports of a link between COVID-19 and possible Kawasaki Disease in children.

“What we’ve asked for is for the global network of clinicians to be on alert for this,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead COVID-19 for the World Health Organization Health Emergencies Programme, during a press conference on April 29, 2020.

It has since been called Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still trying to understand what causes MIS-C.

Experts with the WHO warned then, in April, that there could be other effects of the disease that were not yet known.

“We’ve seen this in the past with many emerging diseases; they don’t necessarily only attack one type of tissue,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, during the press conference.

We now know that’s the case with the coronavirus. Experts have found about 80% of patients who were hospitalized have some sort of residual scarring of the lungs, according to Dr. Joseph Poterucha.

“Even patients who were minimally symptomatic, or not requiring any oxygen just some observation, we’re seeing evidence of inflammation and now after the inflammation– scars,” said Dr. Poterucha, ICU chair for Mayo Clinic Health System.

This impacts lung function and capacity that patients will not get back. For many, that impact may be minimal but it can be worse for people with some pre-existing conditions like COPD or asthma.

“That little bit of a burden on top of a chronic process can potentiate their organ decline, in this case, the lung,” Dr. Poterucha said.

Some patients have also reported strokes.

“They’re getting blood clots in the legs which can of course could travel to the heart, and give you that big clot in the lungs which could be life-threatening,” Dr. Poterucha said.

For some patients on chronic pain medications, who may be more susceptible to flare-ups, they’re seeing more arthritis and muscle pain.

“We don’t entirely understand what the connection is, what the physiology is but it’s very interesting and very bizarre,” Dr. Poterucha said.

Dr. Poterucha said this is not to alarm people because these after-effects are not very common, though he has seen some of the memory issues presenting in local patients. But in all, these other long-term symptoms do show we just don’t know everything about this virus and its full impact.

“The numbers go up, as people get exposed, as we get higher detection levels with testing, we’re going to get a lot more interesting findings, I predict, in the time ahead,” Dr. Poterucha said.

Dr. Poterucha said most patients will not get these subtle effects, but can still spread the disease to those who are more high risk. They might not fair as well from the initial symptoms or long-term symptoms.