IOWA Magazine | 03-14-2022

Ask an Expert: What Have We Learned About Long-Term COVID?

1 minute read
Iowa physician Alejandro Comellas explains what doctors are seeing at UI Health Care’s Post-COVID Clinic.
Watercolor of Covid cells

In June 2020, University of Iowa Health Care established the Post-COVID Clinic —the only clinic in Iowa dedicated to the ongoing care of patients dealing with the aftereffects of the COVID-19 virus.

Comellas Freymond Alejandro PHOTO: UI HEALTH CARE Dr. Alejandro Comellas

With a new disease to treat, Alejandro Comellas, a UI clinical professor of internal medicine and director for clinical research support at the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, says his team of nine physicians not only provides support for patients, but also aims to understand any lingering symptoms they might experience.

Patients first undergo an assessment that includes a pulmonary function test, CT scan of the chest, laboratory testing, screening for depression and anxiety, and a grading of breathing difficulty. Patients then may receive follow-up care from a specialist.

By the end of 2021, the clinic had seen more than 500 patients from across Iowa. Here are some of the lessons Comellas says the clinic has learned about long-term COVID:

  • While lung function usually remains normal in COVID-19 patients who avoid hospitalization, a CT scan of the chest can determine whether a patient has developed small airway disease.

  • Approximately 30 percent of patients reported an increase in mental health symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and difficulty sleeping, within three months of infection.

  • Rehabilitation and post-COVID behavioral and health consultations have been shown to benefit patients in managing chronic symptoms.

  • Most patients recover from the illness, though it can take many months to more than a year.

Dr. Alejandro Comellas discusses UI Health Care’s Post-COVID Clinic.
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