W. Michael Brode, MD, Discusses Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19

Brain fog, exhaustion, and difficulty breathing are some of the lingering symptoms that result from post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) infection, an increasingly recognized syndrome in which patients continue to experience symptoms of COVID-19 months after initial infection. These COVID-19 “long-haulers” experience a wide variety of symptoms, including fatigue, persistent dyspnea, neurocognitive changes, depression, and anxiety. UT Health Austin’s Post-COVID-19 Program is committed to expanding the collective capacity to care for these patients across Central Texas by developing clinical guidance and educational support for frontline healthcare professionals.

Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19

“We’re expecting 20-30% of patients who have COVID-19 will have symptoms at least after six weeks but sometimes lingering at six months…We’re finding that COVID-19 is a multi-system disease affecting all organs, and especially if patients were sick in the hospital, they’re having the scars of the illness,” says UT Health Austin internal medicine specialist W. Michael Brode, MD, who serves as the Medical Director of UT Health Austin’s Post-COVID-19 Program.

Just as studies are being conducted across the world, Dr. Brode and the rest of the Post-COVID-19 Program care team are studying some of the most complex COVID-19 cases, including those that involve long-term lung complications. Their research has found that 1/3 of patients who were hospitalized and needed oxygen, and 2/3 of patients who were hospitalized and needed a ventilator, have some level of lung scarring and tissue damage, making it hard for them to breathe.

“We’re seeing plenty of patients who are young—twenties to thirties—who never had to take any medications before and now having difficulty even walking to get their mail,” explains Dr. Brode. “For people on the ventilator, they can have severe weakness of the muscles/diaphragm for breathing, which can take months to recover. These effects are much less frequent in people who never needed oxygen or hospitalization, where in most cases the lungs have no measurable scarring/fibrosis.”

The more severe a patient’s COVID-19 diagnosis, the more scarring found in that patient’s lungs, causing the need for a longer recovery of lung function, which can take several months or longer. For patients who had COVID-19 but didn’t need to be hospitalized, persistent cough, shortness of breath, and new respiratory issues have also become concerns.

Prevention is Key

With the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, and the emerging of the more transmissible Delta variant, concerns of long-term impacts of COVID-19 are on the rise. The best way to protect yourself and the ones you love is by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing.

“Take the appropriate precautions that keep you and your loved ones safe,” encourages Dr. Brode.

For more information about the Post-COVID-19 program or to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination, please call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737).

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.