Hair loss, kidney damage, fatigue, emerge as possible long-term impacts of COVID-19

The severity of COVID-19 can vary from showing no symptoms at all to a life-threatening illness, but doctors caring for patients in the short term are also picking up on what could come weeks or months down the line.

“What we’re learning is that there is a certain percentage of patients that develop long-term symptoms,” said Dr. Nishant Anand, the chief medical officer at BayCare Health System.

Medical experts said early research shows people experiencing things like chronic fatigue, hair loss or more serious damage.

“There is liver damage, kidney damage, chronic fatigue syndrome and brain damage including problems with cognition,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson of USF Health.

Public health experts said the long-term effects are showing up in severe cases, but they said people with mild or no symptoms are dealing with complications too.

“I think it's an argument for why we take this disease so seriously. People thinking, oh especially young people, ‘mild disease, you know. I might not even have any symptoms, and I'm over it.' Whoa. The data is suggesting otherwise, evidence of myocardial damage, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias,” said Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group.

Doctors and researchers said they still have a lot to learn from the virus.

“We don’t know the long term effects on the vascular system or the respiratory system on people who may have just had mild symptoms,” said Dr. Kirk Voelker, a pulmonologist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

So doctors said they want people to keep an eye out for any changes in their own health.

“If you were able to walk up stairs or you were able to run and all of a sudden you can’t and you developed COVID previously, that’s a great indication to follow up with your physicians so that more tests can be run,” said Anand.

Mayo Clinic experts say all doctors will be looking at the longer term consequences of COVID. Poland said researchers will keep track and study them to figure out how best to treat patients as symptoms develop in the future.