Duke doctors concerned long COVID ‘memory fog’ could increase dementia risk – WRAL News

Durham, N.C. — Some people experience symptoms for weeks, or even months, after being infected with COVID-19.

The National Institute of Health considers a person to have long COVID, also known as long-haul COVID, if they are still experiencing symptoms a month or more after being infected.

Doctors say the symptoms of long COVID are usually an extension of the symptoms a patient experienced while they were ill, which include persistent fatigue and shortness of breath. Some patients experience palpitations, memory issues or “brain fog,” ongoing insomnia, neuropathic problems and more. Some patients experience loss of smell and taste, while others develop aversions to foods they once loved.

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Researchers estimate anywhere from 10% to 50% of COVID-19 patients can develop long COVID, and Duke experts estimated approximately 30% of their patients have experienced the after effects.

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Dr. Coral Giovacchini, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist with Duke Health, said long COVID is targeting a diverse group of COVID-19 patients, not just those with historical risk factors for severe disease like age, high blood pressure and diabetes. In fact, many younger patients are dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 weeks or months after their recovery.

There is not one clear definition of long COVID or a way to diagnose it, but tell your doctor if you’re experiencing multiple, ongoing symptoms, particularly symptoms that are uncomfortable. Doctors will determine if something else may be going on before characterizing the symptoms as long COVID.

One of the most concerning, and common, symptoms after COVID-19 is memory issues or brain fog.

Duke experts said they are “not surprised” by this since COVID-19 is a vascular disease, meaning that it affects the small and large blood vessels within the body and can cause clotting. Doctors are concerned brain fog could put patients more at risk to develop dementia.

Patients experiencing memory loss may be referred to neurologists.

How to best prevent long COVID

Long COVID does appear in vaccinated people, but getting vaccinated decreases the chance someone will get COVID-19 or long COVID, experts say.

The best way to prevent both is to get vaccinated and take care of yourself.

“I really encourage patients to get vaccinated,” Giovacchini summarized. “Some people think they want to let the natural immunity take effect, but I would discourage that. One of the symptoms of long COVID is headache, and I would hate to have a headache for a year if I could prevent that from occurring. So I urge people to get vaccinated and to use good hygiene, wash your hands, sleep, exercise and take care of yourself.”