AHN starts clinic for “long haulers” |

Karen Mansfield newsroom@heraldstandard.com

Weeks and months after recovery, a lot of COVID-19 patients find themselves struggling with lingering symptoms, including loss of taste and smell, overwhelming fatigue, and brain fog.

The group is now widely known as “long-haulers.”

Allegheny Health Network has launched the AHN Post COVID-19 Recovery Clinic, one of the region’s first specialized clinics that provides people throughout the region with persistent COVID symptoms access to specialists.

The clinic will work with patients recovering from moderate to acute cases of COVID-19 and experiencing its longer-term effects.

“Across the country, physicians are witnessing an increasing number of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 yet continue to deal with a myriad of issues from pulmonary, heart and vascular problems to chronic fatigue, headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Dr. Tariq Cheema, division director of pulmonary, critical care, sleep and allergy at AHN and physician lead at the clinic. “The ramifications of the pandemic will continue to be seen in this new patient population and we’re looking forward to helping these individuals diagnose their symptoms, navigate their treatment path and ease some of their concerns.”

The clinic is based out of the Breathing Disorders Center at the AHN Wexford Health and Wellness Pavilion and is led by the network’s pulmonary and critical care.

Overall, of the more than 28 million Americans diagnosed with COVID-19, it’s estimated that as many as 8.4 million people fall into the Long COVID category.

Studies show that up to a third of people who test positive for COVID-19 could develop Long COVID.

In a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that number jumped to more than 43% for people over the age of 65.

Among the the Long COVID symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, scarred lung tissue, cardiac or neurological complications and depression – in fact, among nearly 4,000 people who recovered from COVID-19, more than half met the criteria for moderate or greater symptoms of major depressive disorder, according to a recent report published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Symptoms can range from mild to incapacitating.

“We’ve seen former COVID-19 patients who’ve never smoked before with lung scans mirroring that of a lifelong smoker,” Cheema said. “We’re also noting increased cases of extreme fatigue, ongoing loss of smell or taste, heart inflammation and growing numbers of self-reported depression. So as COVID-19 hospitalizations started to fall across the network, we pivoted our focus to designing a multidisciplinary, strategic clinical team aimed at diagnostics, recovery and comprehensive care.”

The AHN Post COVID-19 Recovery Clinic includes caregivers from the cardiovascular, family medicine, behavioral health, pulmonary and critical care disciplines to help patients manage and overcome complications brought on by mild to severe COVID infections.

Although based out of AHN Health and Wellness Pavilion in Wexford, clinicians are available at Allegheny General, Allegheny Valley, Jefferson, Grove City and Saint Vincent hospitals. The clinic also offers telemedicine appointments.

Additionally, the AHN Research Institute will also assess and analyze data collected from patients during treatment in order to learn more about the lasting impacts of the virus.

“As we rapidly synthesize this information, we’ll be able to better understand its epidemiology, have more data to inform treatment plans and gain more knowledge to share with our broader community. There’s still so much to learn and apply from this pandemic,” said Cheema.

The new clinic is open to anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and continues to experience symptoms after recovery. For more information or to make an appointment, please call 412-DOCTORS.

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