As many as two million people in the UK may be suffering from long Covid, according to new Office for National Statistics data.
Of those two million, 1.4 million people say they have had symptoms for at least 12 weeks, whilst 826,000 have been suffering for at least a year.
1.4 million people who have long Covid said the condition is seriously affecting their day-to-day activities, while 398,000 (or one in five of them) said their ability to undertake day-to-day activities has been “limited a lot”, the ONS found.
The highest rates of long Covid have been found among women aged 35-69, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, teaching and education or health care, and people with other health conditions or disabilities.
More than half of patients hospitalised with Covid during the pandemic still experience at least one symptom two years after their first infection, according to research published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
The study found that even after being discharged, these Covid patients experience a lower quality of life and poorer health, compared to the rest of the general public.
“Our findings indicate that for a certain proportion of hospitalised Covid-19 survivors, while they may have cleared the initial infection, more than two years is needed to recover fully,” lead author Professor Bin Cao from the China-Japan Friendship hospital said.
What are the symptoms of long Covid?
The most common symptom reported is fatigue, experienced by 55% of people with the illness. Shortness of breath impacts 32%, while 23% of those with long Covid report having a cough, and 23% experience muscle aches.
Other long Covid symptoms according to the NHS are:
extreme tiredness (fatigue)
shortness of breath
chest pain or tightness
problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
pins and needles
depression and anxiety
feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
For some patients, long Covid has been truly debilitating – in a devastating interview earlier this year, 32-year-old Lucy O’Keeffe told HuffPost UK the condition has left her unable to wash or walk without the help of her family.
However, there is promising news emerging from medical research about the likelihood of future cases: a recent study suggested the Omicron variant is less likely to trigger long Covid among double-vaccinated people.
Where can you get help for long Covid?
The NHS website recommends that you contact your GP if you’re worried about symptoms four weeks or more after you had Covid-19 or think you may have had the virus. It might help to keep a symptoms diary before you visit them.
The National Institute for Health And Care Excellence (NICE) has official guidance for treating and managing the condition.
The charity Asthma+Lung UK runs a helpful website, MyLongCovid.org.uk, offering practical advice and support, as well as a self-assessment tool, designed to help you explain your symptoms to your GP.
There are also lots of long Covid support communities online. Here are some of the UK-based groups the charity recommends: