How COVID-19 Can Damage Your Body
From the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, we were told to watch for a few symptoms: dry cough, shortness of breath, fever. By the end of April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added six new symptoms to the list: chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, repeated shaking with chills and a loss of taste or smell. Other symptoms, including diarrhea and nausea, have also been linked with COVID-19.
The range of symptoms may seem broad, but it doesn’t come close to the massive array of possible complications from the disease. Here’s what we know today about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, that we didn’t know at the start.
The coronavirus enters the body through the respiratory tract and attacks the lungs – to start. But once the virus is in the body, it can also hitchhike to other organs through the bloodstream.
The heart is another prime target. People with COVID-19 can develop viral myocarditis, or infection of the heart muscle, as well as other heart damage due to the disease.
The virus may also invade the gastrointestinal tract, which could explain why some COVID-19 patients experience diarrhea.
In addition, the virus may directly affect the liver, kidneys, brain and nervous system. Several rare neurological conditions have been linked with the disease.
Overactive Immune Systems
Because the immune system has never seen this novel coronavirus, it releases a flood of immune cells to fight it. The immune response is so aggressive that it also attacks healthy tissues. We know that much of the damage from COVID-19 is due to this hyperactive immune response.
We also know that adults and children are both affected. In fact, COVID-19 may trigger a rare inflammatory syndrome in children, similar to Kawasaki disease. A small but growing number of children are being affected in the United States and abroad. Symptoms include fever, rash, belly pain, vomiting and diarrhea.
What Else Do We Know?
While the science is still too early to draw many firm conclusions, doctors and researchers report some strong associations based on case studies and clinical experience.
Children and young adults may have bluish lesions on their feet. These are referred to as “COVID toes.”
Blood clots, especially in the legs and lungs, are a troublesome complication. They’ve caused strokes and problems with dialysis, as patients’ blood can clog the machine tubing.
Diabetes is a hot research topic in COVID-19. Among the discoveries: New-onset diabetes can be triggered by the coronavirus. And in people hospitalized with COVID-19, diabetes and high blood sugar – in people who didn’t have these problems before – may be strong predictors of mortality.
Researchers are exploring possible skin symptoms. Some patients with COVID-19 have had developed skin rashes and eruptions. It’s not yet clear whether they are directly related to the virus.