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Up to 10 percent of people who have had COVID have residual symptoms—what many are calling COVID long hauler syndrome. “While there isn’t a clear cause for long hauler syndrome, research shows that people who contract COVID could experience mitochondrial damage in their lungs, heart and nervous systems,” said Evelyn K. Balogun, M.D., chief medical officer of Inspira Medical Group.
It’s important for providers to screen COVID patients and identify those who may be experiencing long hauler syndrome. A transitional care program, like Inspira’s COVID-19 Recovery Program, can help long haulers find relief from their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Screening for Long Hauler Syndrome
Most people who experience COVID recover within two weeks, but long haulers experience lingering health problems after their acute symptoms dissipate.
Symptoms can include:
- Chronic headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Elevated heart rate
- Cognitive changes like memory loss
“The severity of illness does not predict the likelihood or severity of long hauler symptoms,” said Dr. Balogun, “which is why it’s essential to follow up with patients who have had COVID to ensure that they aren’t experiencing symptoms.” Dr. Balogun suggests asking patients the following questions when screening for long hauler syndrome:
- Have there been changes in the way you complete daily activities?
- Are you experiencing fatigue?
- Are you experiencing shortness of breath or a racing heartbeat?
- Have you resumed all of your usual activities?
Identifying this condition starts with listening. “Patients may not recognize that the symptoms they’re feeling are abnormal,” said Dr. Balogun. “So have awareness of the patient’s experiences and start the conversation early. Getting them evaluated and treated for long hauler syndrome can improve their quality of life and reduce their risk of prolonged disability.”
If you haven’t already, urge patients to alert you if they test positive for COVID, even if it’s with an at-home antigen test, so you can follow up.
Inspira’s COVID-19 Recovery Program
For patients experiencing long hauler syndrome, Inspira offers a multidisciplinary approach to treatment with the COVID-19 Recovery Program. This program includes specialists in cardiology, pulmonology, PM&R and neurology. “Our integrated model supports recovery of the whole patient, no matter what symptoms they’re experiencing,” said Dr. Balogun.
When a patient is referred to the COVID-19 Recovery Program, they will undergo an initial assessment specific to the symptoms they’re experiencing. This can include a pulmonary function test, cardiac monitoring, echocardiogram and a chest X-ray. Patients often present with more than one symptom, so this initial assessment helps clinicians consider all areas of care when determining a treatment plan.
“The COVID-19 Recovery Program includes treatment modalities such as breathing exercises, physical therapy, medication, cognitive therapy and more,” said Dr. Balogun. “Our team helps coordinate care, and as the patient progresses, or if we identify additional needs, we can bring in other specialists to address those areas of need.”
To refer a patient to the COVID-19 Recovery Program, please use the contact information listed below.
Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients, providers and staff.