Will Post COVID-19 Syndrome Be
Our ‘New Normal’?
While the first recorded coronavirus infection occurred in the U.S. almost a year ago, thousands are still experiencing a post-viral syndrome making it extremely difficult to live their lives.
Debilitating fatigue, brain fog, and difficulty breathing persist in these Covid long-haulers. So what’s driving this syndrome, and is there anything functional medicine can do to shed light on this metabolic disaster?
What is Post-Covid Syndrome?
Post Covid Syndrome is a term given to the collection of symptoms a growing number of people continue to struggle with in the weeks and months after an initial Covid-19 infection subsides.
“Long Covid” as some doctors call it, is a type of post viral syndrome that affects organs and tissues throughout the entire body, even if the person had a relatively mild initial experience with the virus. It’s estimated to affect approximately 10% of those who’ve had Covid (1).
In September 2020, European Respiratory Journal (ERJ) published the results of a review of self-reported symptoms occurring nearly 3 months after onset of the first symptoms of COVID-19. Of 2,113 patients, 99.3% of the respondents stated that they still have symptoms, with fatigue and difficulty breathing being the most common. None of these patients had been in the ICU (2).
Symptoms of Post Covid Syndrome include (but aren’t limited to) (3):
- Severe shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Chest pain
- Inability to taste or smell (anosmia)
- Joint pain
- Cognitive impairment or brain fog
Covid Long Haulers Puzzle Doctors
Long Covid is becoming a growing problem that has even the world’s top doctors a little stumped (4). While long-lasting side effects after an illness aren’t a new development, what’s surprising about this post viral syndrome is that it seems to affect people who had even a relatively mild case of Covid-19.
Many young, active, and healthy adults are still dealing with overwhelming fatigue, cognitive impairment, and cardiovascular issues months after their initial infection subsides.
As coronavirus cases continue to climb, these patients present a significant challenge for the current and future medical system, as there’s no single treatment to resolve symptoms of Covid long-hauler syndrome.
Seeing Through the Fog
Doctors agree that Covid long-haulers need supportive care, but many aren’t sure what to treat, as the root cause of Post Covid Syndrome hasn’t been fully identified yet.
However, researchers and doctors alike draw a connection between Covid long-haulers and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and this could be due to coronavirus affecting the buildup of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and mitochondria–your body’s energy powerhouses.
COVID Can Hijack Mitochondria
SARS-CoV-2 is capable of hijacking the function of mitochondria, your cells’ energy producing powerhouses (5). However, this creates a much bigger problem than just reduced energy production.
Your mitochondria are acutely involved in immune response. In fact, without them, your body wouldn’t know to mount an attack on invading pathogens (6).
Research suggests this coronavirus gains entry to your cells where it then manipulates mitochondrial function to hide from your body’s immune system while it replicates undetected. It can then use your mitochondria to suppress your body’s immune response, and can play a role in multiple systemic conditions involved in severe Covid infections (5).
If during the initial Covid-19 infection your mitochondria sustain significant damage, this could account for some of the post Covid symptoms like fatigue and brain fog, as mitochondria are responsible for generating the energy necessary for all metabolic and brain function.
Mutations in mitochondrial DNA also happen with age and poor health, and contribute to metabolic dysfunction and an altered immune response.
(Your provider at CentreSpringMD has a multitude of solutions to better your mitochondria health–find out which one is right for you at your next appointment.)
Post Viral Syndromes Are a Familiar Nemesis for Doctors
Post Covid Syndrome shares some similarities with a handful of other known conditions, which are also triggered by an infection or occur as the result of secondary damage.
Some doctors have diagnosed covid long-haulers with a little-known condition called POTS, for which there are established treatment protocols. POTS, which stands for postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, is a disorder of the autonomic nervous system that can have a variety of causes, and it existed before Covid. One common trigger is an infection, such as a virus.
There is also an emerging post-viral inflammatory condition referred to as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) previously assumed to be caused only by mold exposure, but doctors are now seeing CIRS develop during the recovery of other viruses as well (7).
Post COVID-19 Inflammation
There is still a question about whether post-COVID-19 syndrome is a new phenomenon or related to the systemic inflammatory effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Some scientists suggest these persistent symptoms which mimic CFS/ME could be due to an accumulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines. If that’s the case, they also suggest manual treatments for lymphatic drainage, therapeutic massage, and exercises to promote mobility and reduce spinal inflammation which may help overcome some symptoms and possibly prevent long-term consequences (8).
Can Integrative Medicine Solve the Covid Long-Hauler Conundrum?
With a post viral syndrome, there isn’t always one clear medical treatment that will reliably resolve all symptoms. More likely, some of the most important steps a Covid long-hauler can take involve diet, behavior, and lifestyle changes which increase the body’s overall resilience and facilitate the use of the body’s own healing mechanisms.
Potential Integrative Medicine Treatments for Post COVID-19 Syndrome
While conventional and integrative doctors work to better understand effective treatment for Post Covid syndrome, solutions for recovery will likely involve:
Promoting Metabolic Health – Robust mitochondria, respiratory health, and cardiovascular function are just a few ingredients for metabolic health, but prioritizing these systems will help your body become more resilient.
To find out where you stand with the factors most important for continued health, get a real physical by contacting CentreSpringMD for an appointment.
Decreasing Inflammation – Since the buildup of proinflammatory cytokines is linked to post viral syndromes, reducing inflammation as much as possible could improve symptoms for post Covid syndrome.
Promoting Lymphatic Function – Essentially the drainage network for your immune system, making sure toxins can properly leave the body in an efficient manner is paramount to restoring normal immune function.
Decreasing Stress – A high level of perceived stress can impair immune function and cause the body to release more inflammatory signals, which may slow recovery or worsen post Covid syndrome.
Finding a Functional Medicine Doctor with Experience Treating Post Viral Symptoms
Working with a compassionate functional medicine doctor will provide holistic support in areas most beneficial to healing.
Since a combination of both conventional and integrative modalities is often required for recovery, integrative medicine doctors are poised to catch post Covid patients and prevent them from falling through the cracks into the mystery of chronic fatigue and post Covid syndrome.
Are you struggling with Post Covid Syndrome or know someone who is? Reach out to your CentreSpringMD team.