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Coronavirus and COVID-19

How will I recover if I’ve had coronavirus?

If you've had COVID-19, you might be wondering what your recovery will look like and how long it might take. On this page, we talk about the physical symptoms you might experience, as well as issues you might have with your mood, memory and concentration.

On this page:

How long will it take to recover from coronavirus?

How long it takes to recover from coronavirus is different for everyone. Many people feel better in a few days or weeks, but for some people, recovery takes longer. You may find that your symptoms may change over time and that you start getting new symptoms.

How long it takes to recover doesn’t seem to be linked to how bad your symptoms were when you first got COVID-19. If you’ve had symptoms for less than four weeks, you’re still at the early stage of infection. Read more about coronavirus and living with a lung condition.

The term ‘Long COVID’ is used to describe signs and symptoms that last for a few weeks or months after having a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. Common symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue and problems with memory and concentration, although there are lots of possible Long COVID symptoms.

How long it takes to recover is different for everyone. Read more on when you might expect to feel back to normal if you have lasting symptoms of COVID-19.

Recovering from coronavirus: your body

If you’re recovering from coronavirus, you might find that you experience a range of symptoms. These can affect your body, your mind and your wellbeing. Here, we talk about the physical symptoms you might experience.

Breathlessness

While recovering from coronavirus, you may find that you get breathless regularly. This might happen when going for a walk, going up or down the stairs, or carrying shopping. When this happens, you can find breathing really hard work, with your shoulders going up and down as you breathe. You might also have a tight feeling in your chest and find yourself getting tense.

If you’re becoming breathless on a regular basis, it’s important to get your breathing checked by a health care professional, in case it’s being caused by something serious.

It's natural to feel anxious or scared when this happens, but there are ways you can manage your breathlessness.

Practising breathing control and breathing techniques can help you prepare for these situations.

Practising good breathing while you are resting is essential for recovery. After getting coronavirus your breathing may have got faster, which is a normal response, but it may not have returned to its normal rate and pattern.

Take a look at this guide to assessing your breathing to see how you’re doing from Physiotherapy for Breathing Pattern Disorder.

Finding a position to help you recover from breathlessness after moving around is also a good idea, as this will allow you to control your breathing and recover more quickly. We have a series of breathlessness videos showing you some positions and techniques for when you’re breathless while you are moving around, which you might find helpful.

If your breathing is not improving, or seems to be getting worse, you should contact your GP or specialist team.

Read more on how to manage breathlessness, including when to call 111 or when to book an urgent appointment with your GP.

Swallowing problems

Because coronavirus can affect your breathing, you may also find you have problems swallowing. This could cause you to become breathless while eating and drinking, or you could start to cough.

The NHS Your Covid Recovery website has more on what to do if coronavirus is affecting your swallowing.

Fatigue

Fatigue (feeling very tired) is very common after viral infections such as COVID-19. Some people can feel better in two or three weeks, while other people can be fatigued for weeks or months.

If you’re feeling fatigued, you need to manage your energy levels. This will ensure you’re able to do the things that are important to you.

You might find it useful to break down tasks into chunks and rest in between each task. Take your time and set small goals for yourself, rather than trying to do everything at once.

You might also want to keep an activity diary, to help you figure out what activities are making you feel particularly tired. It might also help you spot irregular sleep patterns.

Read more top tips on how to manage your energy. The NHS Your COVID Recovery website also has some tips on sleeping well if you’re recovering from COVID-19.

Chest pain

Chest pain is a common symptom that people experience while recovering from coronavirus. However, it’s possible that your chest pain could be caused by something not related to coronavirus, so it’s always important to get medical advice if your chest pain is new.

It's also important not to ignore chest pain that’s brought on by physical exertion, which then gets better when you rest. This could be angina.

When should I get urgent medical attention for chest pain?

You should phone 999 if you or someone you’re with gets:

  • sudden chest pain that lasts for more than 15 minutes
  • sudden chest pain at the same time as feeling or being sick, sweating, or shortness of breath
  • sudden chest pain and loses consciousness.

Chest pain can also be caused by other triggers, such as gastric reflux or breathing too fast into your upper chest, which can make your rib muscles feel sore.

You can read more about chest pain while recovering from coronavirus on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations are heartbeats that are more noticeable than usual. This can feel like a fluttering or pounding, or an irregular beating. You might feel this for a few seconds or a few minutes.

If you’re getting heart palpitations, they may not be anything to worry about. However, it’s important to see a GP if you have palpitations and:

  • they last a long time, get worse or don’t get better
  • you’ve had heart problems in the past
  • you’re worried about the palpitations at all.

You should phone 999 if you get heart palpitations at the same time as:

  • chest pain or tightness
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • severe shortness of breath
  • blackouts or a loss of consciousness.

Read more about heart palpitations while recovering from coronavirus on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

A cough

If you’re recovering from coronavirus, you might find that you have a cough for some time. This might be a dry cough, or you might have a cough with sputum (phlegm).

If you have a new or worsening cough, or you have seen a change in the colour of your sputum, contact your GP. If you are also breathless or have chest pain, book an urgent (same-day) appointment.

Read about how to manage a cough while recovering from coronavirus.

Headaches

Headaches are a common symptom of coronavirus. Most people find that their headache improves within two weeks, but for some people it can last longer.

If you’ve had headaches regularly before getting coronavirus, you might find you get them more often while you’re recovering.

Read more about headaches, including what you can do to help yourself, on the NHS Your Covid Recovery page.

Taste and smell changes

While recovering from coronavirus, you might find that food tastes and smells different to usual. Your food may taste bland, metallic, salty or sweet. This usually only lasts for a while, but it can affect your appetite.

Read more about taste and smell changes, including what you can do to improve the taste of your food, on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

Joint and muscle problems

Some people find they get achy muscles and joints while recovering from coronavirus. This is because during recovery you’re likely to be less active than usual, which can cause you to get aches and pains, muscle weakness and stiffness. This might be in certain parts of your body, or it might be all over.

Sometimes you can get aches and pains after doing too much activity. It’s important to listen to your body and try not to do as much of that activity if you’re finding that activity makes your pain worse. Finding a good balance between moving and resting is essential.

If you had problems with your muscles and joints, you might find these issues have come back or got worse. Some people also find they have pins and needles, numbness and weakness in the arms or legs.

Read more about joint and muscle problems while recovering from coronavirus on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

Skin problems

Coronavirus can affect your skin in a few different ways. If you already have a skin condition, you might find that it gets worse. This can be due to stress or worrying. If this happens to you, it’s important to keep treating your skin condition.

You might also find you have more dry skin on your hands than usual because of washing your hands more often.

Read more about how coronavirus can affect your skin on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

Recovering from coronavirus: your mind

If you’re recovering from coronavirus, you might find that you experience a range of symptoms. Here, we talk about symptoms that can affect your mind.

Low mood

Being diagnosed with COVID-19 can be a frightening experience. Many people notice that they have a low mood or feel anxious as they recover.

You might have low mood if you find you’re:

  • feeling sad or empty a lot of the time
  • becoming more tearful than you usually would
  • feeling irritable a lot towards other people
  • losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • paying less attention to your appearance.
  • having thoughts of harming yourself
  • finding it difficult to make decisions.

If this sounds like you, or someone you know, you can read more about managing low mood and when to seek help on the NHS Your COVID Recovery website.

Anxiety

As you recover from coronavirus, you might find you’re more worried or anxious than normal. You may notice yourself being more concerned or focused on your health, or your symptoms. This might then cause you to feel on edge or nervous, which can lead to physical symptoms in our body, such as breathlessness or difficulty breathing.

There are lots of ways you can manage your fear and anxiety. These include:

  • practising mindfulness meditation
  • practising visualisation (creating a picture of in your mind that makes you feel calm and relaxed)
  • setting a ‘worry time’ – if you start worrying about things, note them down and save them for a particular time of the day when you will think about your worries.

We’ve got more advice on managing anxiety on our health information pages.

You can also read more about fear and anxiety while recovering from coronavirus on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

Memory and concentration

If you’ve been ill with coronavirus, you might find you experience problems with your memory and concentration. You may find it difficult to hold information in your head, not remember something that has happened, or forget to take your medication on time.

You might also find it hard to focus and ignore distractions or keep up with conversations that are fast-paced or involve more than one other person.

If this is the case, it’s likely that the people around you have noticed you have problems with your memory, concentration and thinking. If you explain to them the issues you’re having, it will start a conversation about how they can help you, which you might find useful.

It’s also important for your mind and your body to get a good night’s sleep, for you to be able to concentrate. The NHS Your COVID Recovery page has some great tips on sleeping well if you’re recovering from COVID-19.

If you’re having trouble with your daily activities, you might want to think about how you can change how you do things so that you’re conserving your energy. And if you want to know more about how recovering from coronavirus can affect memory and thinking, take a look at the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

Recovering from coronavirus: your wellbeing

If you’re recovering from coronavirus, you might find that you experience a range of symptoms. Here, we talk about symptoms that can affect your wellbeing.

Sleep

Lots of people recovering from COVID-19 notice that they have trouble sleeping – whether they’ve been in hospital or are recovering at home.

Symptoms such as breathlessness and having a dry cough can be one reason it’s difficult to sleep. Having fatigue can also disrupt your sleeping pattern, as it can cause you to sleep during the day. You might be finding it difficult to sleep because of any fear or anxiety you have about coronavirus.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s important that you try to prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. This can include:

  • not eating heavy meals within two hours of going to bed
  • develop a bedtime ritual to prepare you for sleep
  • not having screens in the bedroom, such as a TV, mobile phone or iPad.

You can read more tips on how to sleep well on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

If you continue to have problems sleeping, talk to your health care professional.

Eating

While you’re recovering, you might find that you have less of an appetite than usual. You might also have difficulty swallowing, which could affect how much food and drink you’re able to have. 

To get your appetite and weight back to normal, you could:

  • use a smaller plate or bowl, so meals feel more manageable
  • allow more time for eating, as you might need to eat at a slower pace
  • make sure that you are in a comfortable, upright position to eat.

There’s more advice on eating well to recover from COVID-19 in the recovery guide from the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. We’ve also got advice on eating well for healthier lungs on our health information pages.

Getting moving

While you’re recovering from coronavirus, you might find that you feel less fit than usual and that your muscles are weaker. It’s important to keep moving, but make sure not to push yourself to do too much too soon.

Being active during the day may help you sleep better and doing this regularly will help with any joint pain or stiffness you might have.

Start off with small amounts of activity and build up from there, resting when you need to.

If you feel ready, take a look at our series of five videos, which guide you through some exercises. They’re at three levels and will help build your physical strength and muscles after having COVID-19.

If you have any symptoms of increased fatigue after trying to exercise, or an increase in your Long COVID symptoms, rest until they go away. When recovered, try doing a smaller amount of the physical activity, to see if you can find the right starting level that your body can cope with.

You may only be able to manage a few minutes at first. Don’t increase the amount you do too quickly.

Getting help

If you have been living with symptoms of COVID-19 for more than four weeks, you should speak to your GP. They will investigate your symptoms and first try to rule out possible causes that aren’t related to COVID-19.

For more advice on what to do if you’ve been living with symptoms of COVID-19 for more than four weeks, see our Long COVID care in the NHS pages.

You might also find it helpful to speak to the BLF helpline, which is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and can be reached on 03000 030 555

Further information

Call our Long COVID helpline on 0300 222 5942, to talk to our team of experts about your concerns and to answer your questions.

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Last medically reviewed: October 2021. Due for review: April 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.