A recent report by the ONS 1 said that around 970,000 people in the UK were experiencing self-reported long COVID. Of these, 817,000 had, or suspected they had, COVID-19 at least 12 weeks before, and 384,000 had, or suspected they had, COVID-19 at least one year previously.

But the symptoms of long COVID are wide-ranging and can often be attributed to other ailments or serious illnesses. So how do you know when it isn’t long COVID and when you might need medical support for something else? 

What is long COVID? 

COVID-19 was initially treated as a respiratory disease, but it’s now recognised that it can attack many different parts of the body, with long-term impacts.

Long COVID, also known as Post-COVID Syndrome, is the ongoing symptoms and complications from COVID-19 around three months from the start of infection. The symptoms last for at least two months and can’t be explained by another diagnosis – these symptoms might be new after recovering initially or carrying on from infection with COVID-19. They can fluctuate over time too.

What are the symptoms of long COVID?

The NHS 2 lists some of the common symptoms people experience after having COVID-19. 

  • Fatigue – extreme tiredness
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Brain fog – problems with memory and concentration
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Cough 
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Joint pain
  • Heart palpitations – doctors are concerned about long-term damage to the heart
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tinnitus and earache
  • Sickness, diarrhoea, lack of appetite 
  • Changes to sense of smell or taste
  • Vertigo – dizziness 
  • Pins and needles 
  • Rashes

But a lot of these symptoms are related to other conditions as well. Doctors and scientists across the globe are researching long COVID, but it is still quite new – just like COVID-19 itself – so it will take time.

Dr Google – aka Googling your symptoms for an answer 

A lot of us have relied on Dr Google from time to time, but the results of relying on your own internet searches can sometimes be worse or better than what you’re really experiencing.

A YouGov survey in 2020 3 found that most healthcare workers have had patients disagree with them, and that one explanation for this could be because patients research their symptoms themselves online. Most healthcare professionals also said that patients had usually done their own research before seeing them.

Maybe that’s not so surprising – it’s just too easy to pick up your smartphone and ‘check’ why you’re so tired all the time, why your muscles hurt, or why you’re short of breath (all symptoms of long COVID). Plus, people fear wasting valuable NHS time, or their own money, to be told something they could have looked up themselves.

But it could be very worthwhile to get a medical professional to look at your symptoms and find out what’s wrong. What you, and Dr Google, attribute to long COVID could be something else entirely – for example, fatigue (extreme tiredness) is a symptom of lots of health issues and diseases such as lack of exercise or anaemia, or more serious conditions like depression or even cancer.

How can private medical insurance help?

You might decide it’s time to get your symptoms checked out by a professional – we often label fatigue or rashes as ‘nothing’ or may now attribute them to long COVID. But they could be neither and you might be able to get support through private medical insurance.

With our health insurance you get access to a GP fast, meaning you’re diagnosed faster – even if you have access to free NHS care, health insurance can help you feel more in control of when, how, and where you’re treated.

You’re covered for a wide range of acute conditions – short-term illnesses or injuries that respond to treatment quickly – as well as cancer, from diagnosis and treatment, to aftercare and monitoring.

We cover eligible hospital fees and specialist treatments, like X-rays or scans, and offer comprehensive outpatient cover, including for diagnostics tests, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

What will happen at a consultation for your symptoms? 

At your consultation, your GP will run a range of tests and investigations to get to the bottom of your symptoms.

If your GP determines that your symptoms are due to long COVID, then they can advise you what the next best steps are for your treatment.

If your diagnosis is something other than long COVID, then you’ll have access to hundreds of private hospitals and facilities. The GP might refer you to one medical professional or hospital in particular or with our Expert Select, we’ll use our knowledge to point you toward the right hospital and specialist for you and your condition.

What happens if it is long COVID?

Long COVID is a chronic condition, which means it’s not covered by your private medical insurance. But it will cover you right up to the diagnosis of long COVID– including eligible tests that may be carried out to determine the cause of your symptoms.

If you’re diagnosed with long COVID, the GP you’re speaking to can point you in the right direction for getting treatment or advise you on what local services are available to treat that condition.

While you recover, our wellbeing services could be useful. We provide mental health support if you’re suffering with anxiety, or any other mental health issues that are making it harder to get back on your feet; a 24-hour Stress Counselling helpline so you can access confidential help ASAP; and MyHealthCounts – an online tool that helps you find out more about your health and lifestyle choices. It can also help you save money when it’s time to renew.

Find out more about our wellbeing services

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