What are the long-term effects of COVID?

The short answer is “we don’t know yet”.  Hard as it is to believe, COVID-19 has only been around for about eight months. It’s hard to say what the effects will be over the course of years. However, we can use what we know about other respiratory viruses and the data we already have to make some predictions.

First, the good news. Most people who get COVID will have a mild case and recover completely with no lasting effects.  (For information on people who stay sick for a long time, see our article on “long haulers”).

But, some people who get seriously ill with COVID, or who had pre-existing medical conditions, might suffer from long-term or even permanent consequences.

COVID primarily affects the lungs. Serious lung infections caused by viruses are called “viral pneumonia”. Aside from COVID, there are other viruses that can cause severe viral pneumonia. (Severe usually means that people need hospital care or even a ventilator.) Severe viral pneumonia can cause long-lasting lung damage.

The amount of this damage, and how well the lung heals, depends on several things: your age, if you smoke, and if you already have lung problems, to name a few. Sometimes the damage can take months to heal, but eventually gets better. COVID, because it can cause viral pneumonia, might also be linked to lung scarring. 

COVID can also sometimes cause heart problems. Some people have had heart attacks due to COVID. Others have had infections of the heart muscle itself; this is called “myocarditis”. Doctors expect the recovery and consequences of COVID-associated heart problems to be similar to heart attacks and myocarditis not caused by COVID. Heart attacks can have permanent consequences. For myocarditis, a majority of people recover over 3-6 months. Unfortunately, some people do not fully recover and their heart muscle is weak for the rest of their lives.

Last update: August 21, 6:04 pm ET

Science review: ERS, JAB