MetroHealth Opens Post-COVID Clinic to Care for Patients with Lingering Symptoms
Cleveland - Migraines, memory loss, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, anxiety and depression, insomnia, night terrors and blood clots. The list is long and complicated of the various ways in which COVID can manifest itself in the human body – weeks and sometimes months into recovery.
"There's still so much to learn about this virus," says Elisheva Weinberger, DO, a rheumatologist who has been serving in MetroHealth's new Post-COVID Clinic since it opened in December. The clinic connects patients who are suffering with lingering symptoms of COVID to the appropriate specialist who can determine the best after-care treatment to minimize symptoms through therapy or medication.
Dr. Weinberger says she's never seen anything like COVID in her years of practicing medicine. "A lot of these patients are really suffering and have never experienced something like this before – the symptoms can be really debilitating," she says. "We see our role as trying to help these patients navigate this really difficult time."
Currently, appointments through the Post-COVID Clinic are virtual – by phone and video. According to Lisa Ramage, Center Director, Specialty Care, patients can contact (or be referred to) the Post-COVID Clinic at 216-957-3959 if they continue to have symptoms disrupting daily life activities four weeks after testing positive. Those experiencing lingering symptoms less than four weeks after a positive COVID diagnosis should contact their primary care provider if they feel they need medical help.
Coordination between the subspecialties is ongoing so Post-COVID Clinic staff can get appointments for patients to the most appropriate provider in a timely manner. According to Ramage, many of the patients are having serious breathing issues. "One patient, a MetroHealth employee who had returned to work following her illness, had such difficulty breathing she had to take frequent breaks on the way to her office to catch her breath," explains Ramage. "Getting these patients triaged by the pulmonology team in a timely manner is important work of the Post-COVID Clinic."
Dr. Weinberger concurs saying there is treatment available for these patients. "It may be medication to ease symptoms or simply getting patients who are dealing with anxiety and depression an appointment with a behavioral health provider in a timely manner."
According to the CDC, "many organs besides the lungs are affected by COVID-19 and there are many ways the infection can affect someone's health."
The CDC cites the following as the most common long-term symptoms being reported:
- Shortness of breath
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
Other reported long-term symptoms include:
- Difficulty with thinking and concentration (sometimes referred to as "brain fog")
- Muscle pain
- Intermittent fever
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
The CDC cites the following more serious long-term complications being reported, though less common, affecting several organ systems including:
- Cardiovascular: inflammation of the heart muscle
- Respiratory: lung function abnormalities
- Renal: acute kidney injury
- Dermatologic: rash, hair loss
- Neurological: smell and taste problems, sleep issues, difficulty with concentration, memory problems
- Psychiatric: depression, anxiety, changes in mood
MetroHealth's Post-COVID Clinic is currently staffed by a rheumatologist, a rheumatology nurse practitioner, a family medicine physician, and an internal medicine physician.
Ramage anticipates the need for the Post-COVID Clinic will grow based on published research and studies. One study out of Wuhan, China, found three out of four patients who had been hospitalized were reporting one or more symptoms six months after getting sick. Fatigue or muscle weakness and sleep issues were among the most frequent reported symptoms. Anxiety and depression were reported by 23% of patients in the study. You can find the study, which was published in The Lancent, here.
To help patients manage anxiety and depression related to COVID, MetroHealth established a special COPE Line – 440-592-(6843) in December. The COPE Line is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 216-957-3090. Individuals with or without an existing behavioral health provider will be screened to see if they are eligible for a fast-turnaround appointment with a psychologist, counselor or social worker.
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.