Diagnosing Long COVID
The type of Long COVID you have will depend on how long you have had symptoms. Your health care professional will use these terms:
|Acute COVID-19||Symptoms that last up to four weeks after having COVID-19.|
|Ongoing symptomatic COVID-19||Symptoms that last between four and 12 weeks after having COVID-19.|
Symptoms that last more than 12 weeks after having COVID-19 and cannot be explained by any other condition or diagnosis.
Your doctor will try to find out if you have Long COVID if you:
- still have symptoms after four weeks
- have new symptoms four weeks after you first had symptoms of COVID-19.
If your GP or doctor thinks you might have Long COVID, they will look at your medical history and ask a few questions, such as:
- Have you had, or do you think you had, COVID-19?
- What symptoms have you had?
- When did your symptoms start and how long have you had them? They might also ask about other medical conditions that you have.
- Do you have any difficulties with your memory or thinking?
- How are you managing with your day-to-day activities?
- Have you noticed any changes in your behaviour, emotions, or mood?
If they think you need an assessment based on your symptoms, they will invite you to another appointment to do this.
Tests for Long COVID
Your health care professional will carry out or refer you for tests to investigate your symptoms and help rule out any other conditions or issues. These tests might include:
- blood tests
- tests to measure your blood pressure and heart rate
- measuring oxygen levels
- electrocardiogram (ECG) heart tracing
- a chest X-ray if you have had symptoms for 12 weeks or more.
You may have more or different tests to these, depending on your symptoms. If you have symptoms of a mental health condition, like depression or anxiety, they might refer you for psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
If you were treated in hospital for COVID-19
If you were treated for COVID-19 in hospital, your health care team will work with you to make a discharge plan before you leave. This will list any medicines or equipment you might need to help with your recovery and how you’ll get these.
The type of care you get will depend on how unwell you’ve been. It might involve carers coming to your home to help you or advice on how to get back to normal.
Your initial care plan after leaving hospital will last for six weeks. Ask your care team about what happens next if your aftercare is finishing. The NHS has more information about the care you can expect after staying in hospital.
Your doctor should offer you a phone or video appointment six weeks after you’ve left hospital, to check how you’re getting on and whether your symptoms have changed.
Long COVID is still a very new condition. In the UK, there is ongoing research into helping people manage Long COVID and understanding how medicines and vaccines impact the condition. The NHS Your COVID Recovery website has more information about current research and studies you could take part in.
If you stayed in the intensive care unit (ICU)
If you were on a ventilator (breathing machine) in the ICU, you may find that you get out of breath more than you did before you had COVID-19. This is because ventilators can weaken your muscles, meaning you may need more time to gain your strength back.
When you left the ICU, you should have been given a rehabilitation plan. You should have a review with a health care professional 2-3 months after being discharged.
This review is your chance to talk about how you’re recovering and any worries you have. If your recovery is slower than expected, or you have concerns about your physical or emotional health, your health care professional might refer you to specialist services, like physiotherapy or a mental health team.
Remember, you don’t have to wait for this appointment to discuss any concerns you have about your recovery. You can contact your GP or health care team at any time.
Treating Long COVID
Your rehabilitation plan
After staying in hospital, or after your initial tests, your health care team will do an assessment of your needs. After this, they may put together a rehabilitation plan. A rehabilitation plan will help you to recover your physical and mental health, so you can stay as independent as possible. It will aim to help you return to work, education and help you do your daily activities.
If you have breathing problems after COVID-19, you may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation. Through this, physiotherapists, nurses and occupational therapists will support you with exercises to improve your strength, and information to help you recover.
If your symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life, you may be referred to a specialist rehabilitation service or a specialist that can help with your specific symptoms. For example, a physiotherapist, a dietitian, or an occupational therapist.
Your rehabilitation plan might involve seeing health care professionals at home or in a clinic or hospital or having an online programme to follow in your own time.
You may be referred to a Long COVID assessment clinic, where you’ll be looked after and supported by a range of health care professionals. These are currently only available in England. You can find out if there’s a Long COVID clinic in your area on the NHS website.
I don’t have a rehabilitation plan
If you haven’t been given a rehabilitation plan and think you need one, speak to your health care team.
If you feel like you need the support of more specialised health care professionals, you should speak to your GP. For example, you may see a physiotherapist if you have problems with your joints and muscles, or a dietitian if you have issues that affect your eating, such as problems swallowing.
Online rehabilitation for Long COVID
Your GP or doctor may refer you to an online platform, such as the NHS Your COVID Recovery programme. This is an online rehabilitation app designed to support your physical and emotional recovery if you have ongoing COVID-19 symptoms.
You can get advice and support through the Your COVID Recovery website from health care professionals on your mental health, physical activity, managing your symptoms, and diet.
You’ll be able to track your symptoms and set your own goals. It also has advice on a range of Long COVID symptoms that can affect your body and mind, as well as advice on what to do if you already have diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
At your first appointment with your doctor, you will be given advice on how you can manage your symptoms.
This should include:
- advice on setting small targets, taking your symptoms into account
- how to get support from social care, housing and employment, as well as financial support, if you need it
- details of who to contact if your symptoms get worse, or if you need support to manage your condition
- information about Long COVID that you can give to your family, friends and others who care for you. This should be available in a language and format that you can understand.
A healthy, balanced diet is an important part of recovering from any illness. Take a look at our information and support on eating well for healthier lungs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has produced a leaflet for people recovering from COVID-19, covering a range of symptoms and issues you might have. It also includes a symptom-tracking diary, so you can track whether your symptoms are getting better or worse.
How can I prepare for my follow-up appointments?
It’s important to go to your follow-up appointments, as this will help your recovery. It’s also important to plan what you want to say to your doctor, so you get the most out of your time with them.
You can plan for your appointments by filling out the My Long COVID Needs assessment to help you understand your needs and get advice on what you should do next.
You can use your assessment results to help you explain your symptoms to your GP. Showing your summary report to your GP may make it easier to get referred to local support services, such as a Long COVID Clinic, or help for problems such as work, money, and mental wellbeing.
When planning your follow-up care, your doctor will agree with you:
- how often your follow-up appointments will be
- which health care professionals should be involved
- whether these appointments will be face to face or remote
- whether you need to monitor yourself at home – such as checking your blood pressure or heart rate.