3 Organs That Could Be Changed by COVID-19 Forever

Dr. Oz breaks down how the coronavirus is still affecting patients long after they recover from the infection.

A person places a pulseometer on their finger.

Experts are saying that if you come down with COVID-19, you may not be out of the woods once you recover — even if you just get a mild case. Patients are noted living with post-COVID syndrome with concerning changes in their bodies. Because doctors are still learning about the syndrome, it's not entirely known just how many people develop it.

So what do we know about post-COVID syndrome? Here are three organs that could sustain long-term damage from a COVID-19 infection.


BRAIN

Experts have suspected for months that COVID-19 affects the brain because of reported symptoms like brain fog and fatigue and even strokes. But new studies are showing evidence that the infection causes blood vessels in the brain to become leaky. And when that occurs, normal brain function is hindered, which could be the reason many patients also report a loss in taste or smell. The virus can invade your olfactory organ, which has a direct connection to the brain.

Now, doctors are still learning how long patients could end up living with these symptoms. The good news is that many people report that the brain fog or loss of smell eventually goes away. And blood vessels can regenerate and organs can heal. But others are not recovering as quickly, so doctors want people to take this syndrome seriously and know that it could be disabling for patients who seem to have recovered from the COVID-19 infection.

HEART

Dr. Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, says he's concerned about what he's seeing — inflammation in the heart. When you get sick with COVID-19, your heart muscle cells can be injured by the virus, which is the inflammation. And the heart has to work extra hard, beating faster to pump oxygenated blood throughout your body. When this occurs, the heart may become enlarged and weakened, causing fluid buildup in the lungs, making it even harder to breathe.

Doctors are still figuring out how common this heart inflammation is in patients, both those with severe and mild cases. And they don't know how long the damage will last. While some of the symptoms do seem to improve over weeks or months, there's the potential for long-term effects like permanent scarring and abnormal heart rhythms.

LUNGS

A COVID-19 infection affects your lungs in a significant way. Normal, healthy lungs are black and full of air. And they're full of strong, healthy blood vessels to carry oxygen to the rest of the body. To compare, a smoker's lungs are more white, which is the appearance of scarring or fibrosis. They also appear overextended, which happens with emphysema. Lungs affected by COVID-19 have appeared even more scarred than a smoker's. And the virus prunes away the healthy blood vessels, leaving the patient with difficulty breathing. As your immune system sends in white blood cells to fight off the infection, your lungs become inflamed and fluid starts to build up in the air sacs and eventually spread throughout the lungs.

WHAT TO DO

If you or someone you know has post-COVID syndrome right now, talk to a doctor. Don't wait it out at home, because you might need medical help.

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