Long COVID Treatments are Desperately Needed
Why do people experience long COVID Symptoms?
I am what some people call a “unicorn”, having never experienced COVID myself. I am not exactly sure how I managed to avoid it since it’s affected more than 100 million Americans. But health experts are saying, Not so fast. They think those of us who believe we escaped COVID actually were likely infected at one time or another. According to the experts, it’s possible I either didn’t have symptoms or had mild cases I mistook for a cold or allergies, so didn’t test. These silent cases may be a significant contributor to the continued spread of the illness and it’s increasing severity in some cases.
That said, I can’t say I understand how those with COVID felt while sick, or how those who continue to suffer long-term symptoms feel. I do know a few people with long covid symptoms and it sounds horrible. The most common symptoms experienced include extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive issues like thinking and memory. These symptoms, which cannot be explained by any other health problem and last many months, seem to impact their everyday functioning. I have one family member who is still unable to work, or even focus enough to read a book, almost a year after first testing positive.
Long COVID symptoms
In addition to the more common symptoms of long-term COVID, researchers have identified others too. In fact, they found over 200 of them, affecting multiple organ systems. Hallucinations, tremors and tinnitus were reported, as well as new-onset conditions such as heart issues, diabetes, blood clots and stroke.
Mild or moderate COVID-19 generally last about two weeks for most of us. Why do some people experience lingering health problems even after the symptoms go away and they no longer test positive? According to the CDC, almost one in 13 adults (7.5%) in the U.S. report experiencing “long COVID”. These long-haulers report they didn’t have these issues prior to their COVID infection.
COVID long haulers
It’s still somewhat of a mystery why some people become long-haulers and others don’t. We do know that no one is immune. More research is desperately needed to help those affected.
We also know that the percentage of women with severe long-term symptoms is almost twice as high as men. This may be because women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases such as lupus, hashimoto’s, systemic sclerosis and more. Certainly, men can have severe cases too, but it’s more common in women.
Inflammation is a common thread in all these symptoms. Our bodies can experience two kinds of inflammation, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation occurs when the body tries to fight off an immediate condition, while the chronic type is when the body finds itself in a state of inflammation over a period of time. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says COVID can trigger acute inflammation symptoms like fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath and brain fog. It’s likely the body is experiencing prolonged inflammation when the COVID patient still has symptoms weeks or months after the infection passed. The prolonged inflammation can lead to permanent damage to the lungs, kidney or possibly the brain. It’s also possible changes to the gut microbiome can perpetuate the inflammation.
Brain fog or true cognitive dysfunction?
In a recent article in Fortune.com, Dr. Eric Topol, executive vice president of Scripps Research in San Diego and a preeminent COVID expert, talked about what we originally referred to as “brain fog”, but is now thought to be cognitive disfunction. He said,
“There are a lot of parallels to “chemo brain.” It’s not that the virus infects brain cells directly, but it leads to inflammation in key areas of the brain that would be affected, like memory and executive function. This is very troubling because this is a common symptom—it is way up on the list of what people report. We don’t have a treatment to take care of this, and many people may have this.”
Dr, Topal also discussed the fact that people talk about the cognitive dysfunction being like Alzheimer’s—or if it’s another form of dementia – in the article. He said,
“I’d say we just don’t know. But that’s the worry. What if this is progressive? What if it simulates what we see with neurodegenerative conditions? I’m an eternal optimist, so I’m hoping that the body is remarkable and will fight it and turn it around.”
Long on information, but short on treatment
While we continue to learn about long COVID as the number of cases grow, we still don’t have a lot of answers about treatment. Much remains unknown, including ways to both prevent and treat the condition. The statistics are scary and it’s important the government and researchers act quickly to find answers. We need to help those suffering by coming up with good long COVID treatments!