What is Long COVID
At this point many people have either come down with or know someone that has experienced COVID-19. While some may have gotten past the initial glaring symptoms, others still feel as though they have little to no energy and find basic day to day responsibilities taxing. You, along with many others, are not sure what is happening since you no longer are COVID-19 positive. Your doctor may tell you that you are depressed and are experiencing some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
You try the psychiatric treatment, but it does not seem to help and are now lumped into the 50% to 80% of individuals that experience symptoms three months after contracting COVID-19.1 The virus is no longer detectable in the body, but you still experience disruptive symptoms and cannot get back to feeling like your pre-virus self.
How is ME/CFS connected to Long COVID?
You may not have heard about Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), but it can be a life altering and incapacitating affliction. ME/CFS shares characteristics to autoimmune illnesses (when the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the body) such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, but tissue damage is not found in ME/CFS patients. Prior to a diagnosis of ME/CFS, patients have reported to have experienced physical and emotional stress before becoming ill. ME/CFS is a diagnosis through exclusion for patients who experience ongoing symptoms for six months. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has speculated that long COVID is possibly the same or very close to ME/CFS.1
While the cause has not yet been pinpointed, researchers are led to believe that an infection, such as Epstein-Barr virus, mononucleosis, Lyme disease, or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus disease, may trigger a change to an individual’s auto-immune system.1
According to Harvard Health Publishing, consistent symptoms of Long COVID or ME/CFS are:
- Ongoing low-level inflammation in the brain and spinal cord;1
- An autoimmune condition in which the body makes antibodies to attack the brain;1
- Abnormalities of the autonomic nervous system with decreased blood flow to the brain;1
- Difficulty making enough energy molecules to satisfy the needs of the brain and body.1
What can be done to help manage Long COVID or ME/CFS
There is currently no way to prevent or cure Long COVID or ME/CFS. Do not overexert yourself post COVID-19 recovery and if you are feeling body aches and extreme weakness, contact your doctor. If diagnosed, a patient needs to manage symptoms and work with their doctor to determine what symptoms are most problematic. If your symptoms are severe, antidepressants and sleep aids may be prescribed along with counseling to manage symptoms.2 Patients need to pace themselves and not overextend their daily mental, physical, and emotional activity so that it does not take more than 24 hours to recover.
With treatment, some symptoms may improve. However, many people do not return to their pre-illness level or functional state.2 It is important to listen to your body and minimize stress levels when trying to recover from any infection or virus.
- “The tragedy of long COVID” Harvard Health Publishing, accessed January 25, 2023, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-tragedy-of-the-post-covid-long-haulers-202010152479
- “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)” Cleveland Clinic, accessed January 25, 2023, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17720-myalgic-encephalomyelitischronic-fatigue-syndrome-mecfs