New clinic for COVID-19 ‘long haulers’

Person taking temperature

Some people who had less severe cases of COVID-19 suffer from debilitating symptoms long after they contract the infection. COVID-19 patients who were not hospitalized — or hospitalized only briefly — are reporting persistent fatigue, loss of concentration, shortness of breath and other ongoing concerns.

Internist Lisa Vinci, MD, answers questions about post-COVID-19 syndrome and UChicago Medicine’s new clinic for patients who have one or more symptoms potentially related to a mild or moderate case of the virus.

Who is most likely to have long-term effects after a mild case of COVID-19?

Doctors are working to find out why a small percentage COVID-19 patients become “long haulers” — people who have not recovered weeks or months after their first symptoms of a moderate case of COVID-19. For the most part, these patients got really sick from the virus but not sick enough to be treated in a hospital.

It’s not surprising that it takes some time for older patients, who may have underlying conditions, to return to their baseline health after contracting the virus. But doctors don’t yet understand why a number of younger patients, ages 18 to 34, are also reporting symptoms that affect their quality of life long after battling COVID-19. It seems that women may be more susceptible to postviral symptoms.

What are the most common post-COVID-19 symptoms?

Fatigue and fatigue-related symptoms, such as brain fog and lightheadedness, are the most prevalent symptoms reported by long haulers. Other classic COVID-19 complaints — cough, shortness of breath and loss of taste or smell — can also persist.

Findings from scientific studies and online surveys by post-COVID-19 support groups also suggest joint pain, chest pain, chills and sweats, headaches, body aches and gastrointestinal issues can continue. Some patients report feeling better for days or weeks and then start feeling sick again, with both old and new symptoms.

How is UChicago Medicine helping patients with this postviral syndrome?

The goal of our Post-COVID Recovery clinic is to evaluate patients for complications of COVID-19 infection, support them through the recovery process, and connect them with available resources, including specialty care if needed.

Patients will have the opportunity to participate in research studies and to enroll in a registry, allowing us to offer treatments should they become available in the future.

Do patients need documentation (positive COVID-19 test result) to get care?

We welcome patients whether or not they were tested for the virus.

An initial telehealth visit will start with an assessment of the likelihood that a patient had COVID-19. This visit will include a review of symptoms, tests, and previously completed treatments. In addition, we will assess behavioral health needs, quality of life, and impact on work and family. Recommendations for further evaluation and/or referral to relevant specialty care will be provided.

A follow-up visit will be scheduled to discuss test results and next steps.

To make an appointment with our Post-COVID Recovery clinic, please call 1-773-702-7826

Vinci-Lisa-highlight 320x324

Lisa Vinci, MD

Lisa M. Vinci, MD, specializes in general medicine and is passionate about providing comprehensive primary care to patients of all ages.