It’s been well over a year since Covid-19 began dominating headlines worldwide, and unfortunately that still remains true today.
In the UAE, the vaccination programme is proving successful with the Emirates moving up to 8th place in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking, which ranks the countries in terms of how effectively they are handling the pandemic. What these rankings – and indeed daily case figures – don’t reveal is how many people are still suffering from long-term symptoms.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is thought that about 30 percent of all patients experience long-term aftereffects that are debilitating or painful. Those symptoms can continue for up to nine months and can affect people who had no symptoms as well as those who were ill with the virus.
Even without specific figures, one indication that ‘long Covid’ is a reality in the UAE is that hospitals are starting to set up post-care options and rehabilitation services.
Among the first to do this are Zulekha Hospital, which is launching a Post-Covid Assessment and Recovery Clinic at its facilities in Dubai and Sharjah, and Amana Healthcare, part of Mubadala’s network of healthcare providers, which offers a four-step therapy programme.
Other facilities are swiftly following suit.
RAK Hospital made global headlines last month by offering a free online Covid-19 Rehabilitation Program in partnership with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), while Medcare Hospital Al Safa has unveiled a Post-Covid-19 Clinic, offering two health screening packages for people who have previously tested positive for the virus. The options include consultations with pulmonologists, chest X-rays, respiratory function testing and medical examinations for the heart and other organs. The packages range from Dh199 to Dh999, making it an affordable option for tourists and those without medical cover, too.
So, who exactly should be checking into these rehabilitation programs? And what symptoms should you be looking out for? We asked Dr Assem Eid Youssef, a specialist pulmonologist and Dr Asif Sattar, a consultant pulmonologist, both from Medcare Hospital Al Safa.
What are the main signs of long Covid?
Covid-19 is a multi-system disease, so if patients are experiencing symptoms post-recovery such as pain and discomfort in the muscles, impaired balance, mobility problems, such as difficulty walking, chronic fatigue, coughing, weakness, reduced or severely disrupted sleep, anxiety and depression, they should seek medical help. The experts have not yet established if there could be any hidden symptoms of Covid-19.
Who is affected by long Covid?
Long-term effects appear more likely in people with certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure and obesity, and in older adults. People may also experience lasting symptoms if the virus made them severely ill. However, post-Covid symptoms are not just limited to people with underlying factors; young and healthy people can also be affected. People with the most severe kind of lung illness – Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) – may have lasting symptoms that may include shortness of breath, especially with exertion.
What are the main long-lasting effects of Covid-19?
Organ damage caused by Covid-19, affecting the heart, lungs and brain, blood clots and blood vessel problems and problems with mood and fatigue.
What is the link between long Covid and vascular damage?
Covid-19 can make blood cells more likely to clump up and form clots. While large clots can cause heart attacks and strokes, much of the heart damage caused by Covid-19 is believed to stem from very small clots that block tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in the heart muscle. Other parts of the body affected by blood clots include the lungs, legs, liver and kidneys. Covid-19 can also weaken blood vessels and cause them to leak, which contributes to potentially long-lasting problems with the liver and kidneys.
What do we know about timelines for recovery?
This depends solely on the individual. Experts have not yet established if the effects could last for a lifetime, but it is believed that in some individuals the effects of Covid-19 can last for months to years.
What are the long-lasting effects of Covid-19 on mental health?
People who have severe symptoms of Covid-19 often have to be treated in a hospital’s intensive care unit and need mechanical assistance such as ventilators to breathe. Simply surviving this experience can make a person more likely to later develop post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. Upon consultation with our pulmonologist, if a patient presents himself/herself with mental health issues, they will be referred to our psychiatrist for further correlation.
How important is post-Covid care?
Covid-19 does not just affect the lungs. It may also lead to blood clots that can lead to strokes, as well as damage the heart and other organs. Any patient with damage to organs might require continuing medication and specific follow-up screening, depending on the particular complication.
- For more information or to book an appointment, call 800MEDCARE, email or go to www.medcare.ae
Devinder Bains is journalist of 20 years, working as a writer and editor on some of the biggest national magazines, newspapers and online publications in the UK and the Middle East. She specialises in women’s empowerment, fashion, race, culture and travel, and as a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach, she is an expert in health and fitness. She splits her time between freelance writing and running Fit Squad DXB – Dubai’s largest personal training and wellness company.