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Understanding post-COVID-19 symptoms and long COVID

6-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

What can I expect while recovering from COVID-19?

Everyone will have a different experience in their recovery from COVID-19. Some people may recover in days, some in weeks. But for others, it could be months. Although each case is unique, people recovering from more severe symptoms are likely to face a longer recovery period.

Schedule regular appointments with your GP to discuss your symptoms and how best to manage them. Your GP will tell you about any medicines that might suit your needs.

Common symptoms you may experience during your recovery:

  • fatigue
  • cough
  • breathlessness
  • joint or muscle pain
  • chest pain
  • change in sense of taste or smell
  • anxiety and/or low mood

Less common symptoms:

  • low-grade fever
  • headache
  • memory difficulties
  • confusion
  • muscle pain and weakness
  • stomach and digestion difficulties
  • rash
  • depression

If you have any of the following symptoms, immediately call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the phone operator you've previously been diagnosed with COVID-19:

  • severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • severe chest pain or pressure
  • a new or returning fever
  • worsening ability to concentrate and increased confusion
  • difficulty waking up

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (the RACGP) has also created a guide for patients on managing mild post COVID-19 symptoms. This includes advice on managing fatigue, easing muscle and joint pain, and managing a cough or any breathlessness.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom and Antiviral Eligibility Checker to find out if you need medical help.

What is long COVID?

Most people with COVID-19 will recover completely within a few weeks. However, some may keep experiencing symptoms for weeks or months after their diagnosis. This is called 'long COVID' or 'post COVID-19 condition'.

A person is usually considered to have long COVID if their symptoms have continued for longer than 12 weeks after their initial infection. These symptoms can include:

  • extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness
  • cough
  • hoarse voice
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • changes to taste and smell
  • joint and muscle pain
  • problems sleeping
  • numbness or pins and needles
  • changes in mood (anxiety, depression or stress)
  • heart pounding or racing or heart palpitations
  • joint pain
  • muscle pain
  • rash
  • low-grade fever
  • reduced appetite and weight loss
  • difficulty going about everyday activities, such as work or chores

Who is at greater risk of long COVID?

Studies have shown that people are at higher risk of long COVID-19 if they:

  • had severe illness during the acute COVID-19 illness phase, including those who needed intensive care
  • have underlying conditions or diseases — for example, respiratory disease, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, chronic cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, post-organ transplantation or active cancer
  • are older
  • are female

How is long COVID treated?

There is no specific treatment for this condition, but you can speak with your GP for help.

Some states and territories — including the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria — have opened long COVID clinics in major cities to help people recover from ongoing symptoms. Your GP or medical specialist can advise if attending a long COVID clinic is right for you, and refer you to one if you need.

Related topics

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Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2022

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