Feb 20, 2024 - News

Report: Nearly 25% of Iowans with COVID had "long-haul" symptoms

Illustration of a COVID test with an exclamation point in the result window.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a quarter of Iowans who tested positive for COVID-19 in 2022 said they endured "long haul" symptoms lasting three or more months, according to a 2023 report from the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services.

Why it matters: Long COVID can be debilitating to patients' daily lives and mental health.

  • Many struggling patients say it feels like "an invisible illness," says Lauren Graham of the University of Iowa's post-COVID-19 clinic, the state's only medical facility dedicated to long COVID.

State of play: It's still unclear why women are more likely to experience long-haul symptoms (27%) than men (19%), but Graham tells Axios she sees healthy women in their 30s and 40s especially struggling with symptoms. That could mean it's hormone related.

  • Lower-income Iowans (32%) and those without health insurance (23%) are also more likely to endure long symptoms because their jobs don't offer flexibility, resulting in longer recovery.

Zoom in: While serious cases and hospitalizations have decreased, "unfortunately" not much has changed for long COVID's frequency, Graham says.

  • The most common effects are fatigue (24%), shortness of breath (20%) and loss of taste and smell (19%).
  • Other symptoms include depression, mood changes, brain fog and muscle pain, per the November report.

Plus, 32% of Iowans with long COVID said they dealt with frequent mental distress compared to 21% of adults.

  • The politicization of the virus can be especially hard for some patients and causes them to be silent, Graham says.

What they're saying: Though there isn't any clear way yet of avoiding long symptoms, continuing to work or extending yourself while sick can cause effects to persist.

  • "Taking care of yourself while you are ill is the best thing we found so far," Graham says.

The bottom line: Even if recovery feels brutally slow, doctors are witnessing patients improving over time, Graham says.

  • The big thing is finding a doctor who recognizes your ailments.
  • Even if there isn't a test to prove you're dealing with long COVID, Graham says that doesn't mean your symptoms are not real.
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