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Managing lung, heart and mental health a cornerstone of post COVID rehabilitation

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Not all patients who have recovered from COVID-19 report long-term complications but Dr Farah Ingale, Director-Internal Medicine, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi-A Fortis Network Hospital says patients who developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) could have a higher risk of long-term health issues like lung scarring, heart and mental health issues

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc worldwide, an important question looms large – ‘Does a COVID-19 patient completely recover upon being discharged from the hospital?’

This virus primarily affects the respiratory system and can cause life-threatening pneumonia. Current cases show that the disease attacks more than just the respiratory system, it affects multiple organs, causing blood clots and inflammation. Several patients who have recovered from COVID-19 have returned to the hospital’s Emergency Room with heart, lung, neurological and other complications.  Many patients who have had milder forms of COVID-19, have persistent symptoms of fatigue and difficulty breathing for up to 60 days post-infection!

Post-recovery, some patients who have beaten COVID-19 may continue to face a range of health issues, depending on the severity of their infection. There is limited evidence regarding long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms after the infection has been tackled, it being a new viral illness. However, there have been reports of individuals still experiencing symptoms months after the infection, including continued loss of taste or smell, irregular heartbeats, chest pain, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, cognitive problems, and recurring fever. It is to be noted that not all patients who have recovered from COVID-19 report long-term complications.

Patients in the post COVID-19 phase, who developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) could have a higher risk of long-term health issues like:

Lung scarring: Several reports suggest that after recovering from severe COVID-19, some patients may experience lung damage, including partial or complete lung scarring (pulmonary fibrosis) that results in severe functional limitations. Gradually the scar tissue can destroy the normal lung and make it difficult for oxygen to get into the blood. Low oxygen levels can cause shortness of breath, particularly while performing activities that cause physical exertion.

Heart health: Some people who recover from COVID-19 may have lingering heart damage or myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), months after their initial infection! Severe systemic inflammatory conditions during COVID-19 may aggravate irregular heartbeat in some individuals. The acute inflammation caused by the virus can worsen both cardiac and kidney function.

Mental health: People who required intensive care during their COVID-19 treatment at the hospital, are at increased risk for mental health issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. In addition to mood disorders, several recovered patients may have neuropsychological symptoms including dizziness, numb limbs, long-term loss of smell and taste, cognitive changes, such as difficulties with attention and memory/ brain fog. They could also suffer neurological complications like stroke.

Hence, it is very important to all of us to take health and safety precautions concerning COVID-19 seriously. With reopening of businesses and public facilities, many cities are reporting an increase in the number of daily COVID-19 confirmed cases. It is also important to look for early warning signs such as drop in oxygen level, breathlessness and unexplained chest pain. Safety precautions that we can take to minimise exposure and risk include:

⦁       Physical distancing (minimum of 6 ft between two individuals)

⦁       Wearing mask in public

⦁       Regular handwashing with soap & water/ sanitising hands

⦁       Intake of Vitamin C, Vitamin D & Zinc supplements (as per prescription)

⦁       Have a balanced diet and immunity boosting foods

⦁       Exercise regularly

⦁       Undergo a basic health check-up at regular intervals

Many times patients are not able to understand the symptoms or signs that develop post COVID-19, which may be harmful, and can affect the quality of life of the patient. Many hospitals including Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, have come up with a much needed novel initiative to help such patients out – a post COVID OPD. This OPD will help screen patients from time to time, detect complications early, provide medical intervention and offer mental health counselling.

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