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Long-term effects of COVID-19 (long COVID)

What is long COVID?

Most people with COVID-19 feel better within a few days or weeks of their first symptoms and make a full recovery within 12 weeks.

For some people, symptoms can last longer. This is called long COVID or post COVID-19 syndrome. Long COVID is a new condition which is still being studied.

Read about long COVID research studies on the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) website.

Symptoms of long COVID

The most common symptoms of long COVID are:

However, there are lots of symptoms you can have after a COVID-19 infection, including:

  • loss of smell
  • chest pain or tightness
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • pins and needles
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes

Non-urgent advice: Contact a GP if:

  • you've had symptoms of COVID-19 for 4 weeks or more and are worried

What happens at your GP appointment

If you see a GP about ongoing COVID-19 symptoms, they may suggest tests to find out more about your symptoms and rule out other conditions that could cause them.

These tests might include:

  • blood tests
  • checking your blood pressure and heart rate
  • a chest X-ray
  • measuring your oxygen levels

The GP will talk to you about the care and support you might need.

You may be given advice about how to manage and monitor your symptoms at home.

Getting a referral to a long COVID service

If the symptoms are having an impact on your life, you may be referred to an NHS long COVID service for children, young people or adults.

Long COVID services can offer:

  • further tests to help diagnose or monitor your symptoms
  • assessments for your physical and mental health
  • treatment for or help managing long COVID symptoms
  • referral to post-COVID rehabilitation for further support, if needed

How long it takes to recover from COVID-19

How long it takes to recover from COVID-19 is different for everybody.

Some symptoms can improve quickly and others last longer.

The chances of having long-term symptoms does not seem to be linked to how ill you are when you first get COVID-19.

People who had mild symptoms at first can still have long-term problems.

Find out which healthcare organisations provide long COVID services in your area.

How to help symptoms of long COVID yourself

A lot is still being learned about long COVID. But there are things you can do to help with the symptoms.

Tiredness and fatigue

If long COVID is causing tiredness or fatigue, there may be things you can do to help, such as avoiding drinking too much alcohol and sticking to the same sleep times every day.

Keeping a diary of your day, how you slept, and your tiredness and fatigue symptoms may help you to understand if anything is making it worse. These things are sometimes called triggers.

Read more about tiredness and fatigue, including things you can do to help.

Eating a balanced diet

It’s important to eat well if you have long COVID because this helps you get better and stronger quicker.

Read more about eating a balanced diet.


The amount of exercise you can do will depend on how you are feeling.

It's a good idea to speak to a GP for advice before starting a new exercise programme if your symptoms are severe or you have not exercised in a while.

It can help to start small and listen to your body. For example:

  • stand up every hour
  • try some breathing exercises
  • move your joints
  • set realistic exercise targets
  • do not do too much, and stop if you feel unwell
  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)

Try not to stay in bed or sit for too long. Get up regularly and go for short walks if you can. If this is something you are struggling with, speak to your GP or long COVID clinic.

Depression, anxiety and mental health

If you have mental health symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, find out how you can access NHS mental health support services.

You can also read more about 5 steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing.


Long COVID can cause breathlessness and a change in your usual breathing pattern. Breathing exercises can help to get your normal breathing pattern back.

This can include:

  • breathing in through your nose gently and at a steady rate
  • trying to avoid shallow breathing and breathe in gradually and more deeply

You may need to see a physiotherapist for help with breathlessness. This may be available through a long COVID service.

Difficulty concentrating (brain fog)

Some people with long COVID have difficulty concentrating, managing lots of information at once, or remembering things. This is sometimes called brain fog.

You should discuss this symptom with your GP if it is a constant or severe problem or getting worse.

Heart palpitations or dizziness

Your heartbeat may feel different to normal when you’re recovering from an illness, but this should settle as you recover.

To help with palpitations or dizziness, you can:

  • move slowly when you’re sitting or standing
  • do some gentle activity – you may find it easier to exercise in a lying position

If you’re worried about heart palpitations or dizziness, speak to a GP or NHS 111.

Returning to work or carer roles

If long covid is having an impact on your usual ability to manage your work or caring role, discuss this with your doctor and employer.

Read more about support and benefits for carers.

More information

Page last reviewed: 21 March 2023
Next review due: 21 March 2026