The long-term effects of Covid on the body, from the heart to the brain

Many patients continue to feel breathless even after their initial infection clears,  with MRI scans revealing residual damage in some. “It’s  the same two major pathologies: inflammation and clotting, so you get inflammation in the lung tissue and you get clots in the blood vessels, that’s why lots of patients get anti-clotting injections,” says doctor Banerjee. 

“Then, after the initial infection, we are seeing lung fibrosis (scarred and damaged tissue) and some impaired movement of the lungs, but it’s very early days, we haven’t got big numbers yet.”

And what can we hope for in terms of recovery? “We genuinely don’t know because no one has seen lung damage like this in other conditions.”


Loss of sense of taste and smell (anosmia) is an early warning sign of the virus and this often an issue for younger Covid patients who don’t have any other symptoms.

A recent study found an average loss of close to 80 percent of normal smell function, 69 percent of normal taste function, and 39 percent of normal skin sensitivity (chemesthetic function) from COVID-19. 

But why does this happen? Doctors have suggested that the virus is likely entering the brain and attacking the parts responsible for the sense of smell. 

Fortunately, most patients regain their senses within 7-14 days, though for others it can take up to six weeks.

Brain and mental health

The Coverscan study didn’t look at the brain but other UK scientists are noting that Covid-19 can lead to brain and mental health issue. One study published in Brain, the Journal of Neurology, reported inflammation (known as encephalitis) and blood clots which block the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain causing strokes, even in younger patients. 

Other patients experienced nerve damage causing pain and numbness in the form of post-infectious Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. “There’s something about Covid that sends the immune system nuts,” says consultant neurologist Dr Tom Miller, a co-author on the Brain study and researcher at UCL, “and the brain is much more susceptible to that than any other organ.”

Confusion (delirium) and memory issues were common. “Probably over a third of patients with Covid presented in that way,” says Dr Miller. “Typically patients don’t know what year it is, they might not know the day or where they are.”

All this raises the question: will Covid-19 be associated with long-term brain illness, as followed the 1918 influenza pandemic, which was linked to a wave of “sleeping sickness” (encephalitis lethargica)?

“I certainly hope not. We’ve realised in hindsight that was probably an autoimmune condition, which we would treat these days. But our hunch is that there will be some long-term problems and these will be in the people who had more severe Covid,” says Dr Miller. “I tell patients to be patient. We’ll have a better idea of their recovery after six months.”

If you have had a positive COVID-19 test result and would like to participate in the study, visit

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