Recovery from the deadly coronavirus does not end the health challenges for patients, doctors warn. Called “long COVID,” the long-term effects of the disease may take a toll on the future health of COVID-19 survivors. Some patients suffer from hair loss long after recovering from the infection that primarily damages the lungs, which others deal with nerve damage. Those who are not in the risk category for cardiovascular diseases may be at risk of contracting other diseases in the future.
Professor Tufan Tükek, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Istanbul University (IÜ), says they monitored hundreds of patients for nine months at the faculty’s hospital and discovered hair loss among recovered patients. “We are seeing hair loss up to 10% especially among female patients,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Thursday.
Tükek also pointed out that some recovered patients are hospitalized again after a brief period as their health worsens, though the rate of this occurring is very low, “between 5% and 10%” among all recovered patients. “This is low compared to the United Kingdom,” he said, referring to a study made public earlier this month by the University of Leicester and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that found one in three discharged coronavirus patients returned to the hospital within five months.
“Another study by Michigan University in the United States shows about 27% of 1,775 patients were admitted to the hospital again within two months of recovery between March and June 2020,” he noted.
At Tükek's hospital in Istanbul, 3,300 patients were monitored for about nine months. Tükek said Turkey’s success in the treatment of patients and patients’ response to treatment procedures curbed chronic problems in the aftermath of the disease. Yet, hair loss among recovered patients is still prevalent. “We don’t know its cause yet. At first, it was believed that there might be other underlying causes, probably linked to anemia and hypothyroid, but none of those conditions were found in the patients. Another symptom among recovered patients is back pain. It was prevalent among about 10% of patients we monitored, and we don’t know its exact cause yet,” he said.
Ramazan Tezer, a 42-year-old textile worker who was infected with the virus last May and has since recovered, is among those dealing with hair loss. “I had a 14-day treatment at home. My hair started falling out. I had a colleague who also had COVID-19 and he complained of hair loss too and decided to have his hair cut shorter than usual to hide the loss. Apart from hair loss, I still feel tired easily,” he told DHA.
Dr. Huzeyfe Arıcı, who works at a monitoring center for COVID-19 set up at Istanbul University's Faculty of Medicine, one of many centers opened across the country to observe recovered patients, said they check the health of recovered patients every three months, and back pain is the most prevalent system among patients. “Another common complaint among patients is fatigue. They say they get tired easily. Hair loss is another interesting symptom and is especially common among young patients. Some patients, particularly teachers and academics whose professions involve memorizing, complain of absent-mindedness,” Arıcı said.
Peripheral vascular diseases are another risk recovered COVID-19 patients face. According to Tükek, the risk is heightened if recovered patients discontinue the anticoagulant drugs necessary for post-COVID treatment. “Patients need to take those drugs at least for one month after recovery. In the future, it could have a serious impact on their health, from strokes to lung embolism,” he warned.
Dr. Ismail Ateş, a cardiologist at a hospital in the southern province of Antalya, echoes the same concern. He stressed that cardiovascular diseases already increase the fatality risk for patients and even those without a history of such diseases are at risk after recovery. “The virus does not cause pneumonia only. Cardiovascular diseases can develop in patients hospitalized for the coronavirus,” he noted. COVID-19 infection brings with it an array of health conditions and diseases, from myocarditis to acute coronary syndrome.
A group of Turkish scientists discovered another impact of the coronavirus on recovered patients recently. Professor Yıldırım Ahmet Bayazıt, who led the team of researchers, says coronavirus inflicts permanent damage to nerves connecting the eye to the brain. “This may lead to a disruption to balance mechanisms in the body. Damaged nerves also lead to joint problems and deterioration in vision,” he told DHA.
Bayazıt and six other researchers from Medipol Mega University in Istanbul started studying the phenomenon after coming across problems relating to balance in some recovered patients. Examining patients between the ages of 21 and 44 and those who recovered without treatment at intensive care, they found nerve damage that led to a loss of balance in 20% of those patients.
“We only examined young people but this could be more damaging to older patients. Balance problems range from feeling yourself falling into a void, a sense of decreasing blood pressure, a stilted walk and similar problems. They may inevitably lead to injuries and trauma from falls,” he said. “Such neurological problems cannot be noticed by the patient himself/herself but they can worsen in time if not diagnosed and treated,” he warned.
Bülent Pehlivan, who recovered from the coronavirus about three months ago, is among those experiencing balance problems. “I was already feeling tired after I recovered. I feel like I’d fall whenever I take a step. It is especially worse when I get out of bed in the morning. I feel like I am falling into a pit when I put my feet on the ground,” he said. Pehlivan says he was doing exercises to overcome the loss of balance.
Mehmet Dağ, another patient who recovered from the virus after 17 days of treatment, says he suffered from dizziness and a loss of balance. “I first thought it was because I was too tired due to the disease, but doctors told me about (nerve damage). They recommended I take up exercises and daily walks to maintain my balance,” he said.