The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is primarily an infection that affects the respiratory system. So, the organs that bear the brunt of this disease are the lungs.

A man in checked shirt sitting on a chair while a female doctor checks him with stethoscope.Image for representation
Coronavirus coronavirus Tuesday, June 15, 2021 - 16:49

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here

COVID-19 cases in India are on the decline in several states, with the discharge numbers of recovered patients per day outstripping the new infections reported. Many who contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus have mild symptoms and seem to be getting better within a couple of weeks. But those who have moderate to severe symptoms are taking a longer time to completely recover (even after testing negative for the novel coronavirus) and that is where post-COVID care becomes important.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is primarily an infection that affects the respiratory system. So, the organs that bear the brunt of this disease are the lungs. “Post-COVID care depends on the symptoms the patient had and how severe the infection was,” says Dr HB Chandrashekar, Director at Jain Institute of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine and Consultant Pulmonologist at Columbia Asia Hospital, Yeshwanthpur and Manipal Northside Hospital in Bengaluru.

“Patients who had mild cases of COVID-19 and do not have any underlying issues should get back to being active once they have no symptoms and test negative for the virus,” says the doctor, stressing that they should stick to light activity and gradually step up the exercises.

However, he cautions that those who have had moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 should be monitored post-recovery. “There are cases of patients getting COVID-related pneumonia and formation of scar tissues on the lungs due to the infection,” says Dr Chandrashekar. “This is still a new disease and while the lungs will heal, we aren’t sure how long it will take in some cases.” Smokers and patients who have underlying health issues like diabetes, hypertension, etc, should also be careful post-recovery.

To help such patients fully recover the doctor runs a comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation system. The six-minute walk test is conducted on patients, based on how they manage it exercises are prescribed and gradually increased. “We make the patients move and exercise slowly under supervision, and in some cases even with oxygen support,” says Dr Chandrashekar.  In the six-minute walk, a patient is made to walk at their own pace for six minutes and oxygen saturation levels are measured during and after the walk. Based on the changes in oxygen levels, the doctor can access cardio-pulmonary functions.

While breathing exercises are a must when it comes to post- COVID care, the doctor says that physical exercise is also important to increase lung function and recommends that all COVID-19 patients post-recovery should do some form of exercise that works their peripheral muscles.

Dr Chandrashekar is a firm believer in a holistic approach when it comes to post-COVID care. Eating right is important and his team speaks to patients who have recovered about diet and nutrition as well. He also brings up the importance of counseling COVID-19 patients. “Many of them have been in ICU or even isolated and would have gone weeks without seeing a familiar face,” says the doctor. “They are bound to face anxiety and depression post-discharge, so it is important they talk to someone and get the help they need.”

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here

Read: How COVID-19 affects the cardiovascular system and how to prevent damage

Read: 104-year-old Kerala woman recovers from COVID-19

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